I used to be an Anglophile, and England was my favourite country. I grew up admiring and marvel at everything British, the monarchy – the glorious traditions, pageantry, quaint London Bobbies, textbooks, literatures, sciences, English soccer etc. I suppose such colonial mentality is not odd, given that Malaysia was a colony of Britain.
The royal marriage is in the air and it seems to be a big news item. Given that this is the 21 century, and that the golden age of British imperialism is well over, I fail to see the fuss that this wedding has generated. Even in the Chinese papers like China daily and People’s Daily, there are special columns being dedicated to this wedding, as if it a momentous event of true significance. It is certaintly NOT! It is big-time marketing hype, that generate incomes for certain parties.
Despite the lost of prestige due to the many scandals that afflict members of the British royal family, the British monarchy still has a certain charm and aura of days gone by, where the pom and pageantry of former great empire still draw grasp of admirations and wonders from the ordinary common people all over the world. This is being expertly manipulated by the government and those in the media business. Politicians as usual are joining in the limelight in this supposedly happy occasion.
Heiko Khoo, a columnist for china.org.cn provides a interesting perspective to remind us the social chasm in Britain, and that Britain is still a class conscious society despite all the changes that has take place in Britain.
What is behind the Royal wedding?
Heiko Khoo China.org.cn, April 29, 2011
There is nothing like a Royal occasion in Britain to bring out the underlying character of its society and state. A vast army of television crews and photographers are swarming around the epicentre of joy, Westminster Abbey. Days in advance, tourists desperate to be part of this historic event arrived in tents at the scene, waving Union Jacks (made in China) and wearing a certain glazed look — the look of the happy servility of village idiots. The awry-eyed subservience that is so keenly generated by “so touching” an event as the marriage of Will and Kate, conceals behind it societal power relations. When Prime Minister David Cameron heard news of the marriage, he and his cabinet burst into applause and thumped their fists on the table. Cameron and the other MPs hope the event will distract from the social chasm that opens up, as austerity is imposed on the working class to pay for the financial crisis.
Constitutionally, Britain remains a nation stuck in time. It retains an ossified compromise between the bourgeois and feudal powers. When King Charles 1st was beheaded in Whitehall during the English revolution in 1649, the power of the rising bourgeois class was not deeply enough engrained to sustain republican rule. Thus the monarchy was restored in 1660 following the death of Oliver Cromwell, even though many of the foundations of capitalist rule were entrenched.
This bourgeois-feudal compromise remains incarnated in rituals and laws from medieval times. These serve to sanctify a social order based on unearned wealth, privilege and power. The British aristocracy owned nearly half the nation’s land and derived obscene wealth from its feudal titles.
The existence of the monarchy as the head of state is by definition exclusive of all egalitarian rights and principles, for no-one except a member of the Windsor family can become the head of state. Unless you swear allegiance to the monarchy and their family, you cannot serve in the armed forces, the police, the judiciary, the Church of England, or as an elected member of parliament.
The British monarchy and their Lords maintained dictatorial control over their own people for over a thousand years. Rule by the sword backed by the mental tyranny of religious mania, ensured that kings, queens and their entourage of titled hangers-on, treated their serfs as sub-humans. It was therefore natural that the much-revered Queen Elizabeth the First had no qualms in offering her direct support to the birth of the English Slave Trade led by Hawkins and Drake. The British Empire, based on sea-faring plunder, robbery and enslavement of peoples and nations, provided a financial cushion that sustained the enrichment of merchants and monarchs alike.
The British monarchy stems from 18th century German royalty. Naturally, the “foreignness” exacerbated peasant animosity towards the royal family. Eventually their German ties forced them to change their name from “Saxe-Coburg” to Windsor in 1917, as a precaution against republican revolution. The millions who were sent to die by their monarchs in trench warfare in the First World War developed a healthy disdain for their “natural superiors”. In Germany and Russia, monarchies fell in the revolutionary wave that ended the war.
Britain’s inegalitarian state structure is based on an unnatural pre-modern ideology. It requires monarchical “mystique”, extravagant rituals, pageants and traditions to ensure its perpetuity. Most of these “ancient traditions” were invented over the last 150 years and were foisted on the populace, who simultaneously were made to pay all the bills in gratitude.
The jittery reaction by the state to anything that might disrupt the wedding reminds one of the class-struggle comedy in Bertolt Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera”. In the play the beggars of London demonstrate their misery at the royal coronation. Peachum, the beggar king, warns the head of the police, “You’ve forgotten what an immense number of poor people there are. When you see them standing outside the Abbey it won’t be a festive sight.”
Any mood of national celebration generated by the royal wedding circus, will soon give way to grumbling from below at the contradiction between the ostentatious extravagance of the privileged few, and their demand for frugality and sacrifice from the majority.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: