In Hong Kong, Huge Crowds Mark Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary
The atmosphere was hushed as dusk fell on Victoria Park in central Hong Kong on June 4th, where thousands gathered to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Organizers said 150,000 were in attendance. People sat patiently on the ground, grasping white candles, listening and watching as televisions conveyed the songs and speeches issuing from the main stage. Even when speakers began to gain momentum, the clapping and singing was subdued, with no one shouting or getting agitated.
It was a night for remembrance, said attendees, but also for sending a clear message to both the Beijing and Hong Kong governments about the need to recognize history and promote freedom.
Lee Cheuk-yan was the lead organizer of the vigil. He is also the chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and a member of Hong Kong’s legislature. He had strong words for Beijing: “China seems to be moving backward. China needs to move forward,” he said before taking the stage to lead the ceremonies.
“One cannot really have economic growth without freedom and democracy. For example, they are censoring the internet…we can hope that China’s communist party can listen to our voice in Hong Kong so that they can relax the control and allow more free and democratic policies,” said Mr. Lee.
Susannah Leung, 27, came to Victoria Park with her father, her boyfriend, and a few friends. They arrived at 5 p.m. to get a spot relatively close to the front and waited for three hours for the start of the ceremony.
“I’m not satisfied with the Chinese government. That’s why I’m here. I’m not satisfied with their policies,” said Leung. “They block the news, and they catch people who are against their policies. They’re very terrible.”
This was the first time she’d been to the vigil since childhood.
Leung said she felt connected to the thousands of people around her: “I believe that a lot of young people have the same feelings as me and that’s why they’re here tonight. They’re dissatisfied with the Chinese government.”
Tommy Tao, Leung’s boyfriend, said he wanted the Chinese government to respect the freedoms of the Chinese people and that attending the vigil was his way of expressing that demand.
Tao, 30, is a research assistant in biomechanics and Leung works in the school system. They agreed that in Hong Kong they could speak their minds freely. “We’re still safe in Hong Kong. Even if the Hong Kong government doesn’t follow the Chinese government, we’re still safe,” said Leung.
Since 2003, she’s joined in Hong Kong’s yearly July 1st democracy march, which marks the date of the handover from the British government. The march is her way of expressing her frustration with the local government.
“There are a lot of policies that are not quite fair to us. Housing problems, economic problems – these make our lives very hard. I’m thinking of joining the protest on the 1st of July at the government headquarters,” said Leung.
She felt happy with the turnout at Victoria Park. “I can see a sense of unity. This is quite encouraging.”
But she was saddened by videos of the 1989 events. “They used a tank to roll over the people. That’s terrible.”
Daniel Lam, 24, came to the vigil “to remember the truth of 1989.” Lam said that the crowd’s attendance was a “signal to the Chinese government that we care about this history and they need to give in to justice and truth.” Lam recognized that people in Hong Kong were in a unique position: “Here is the only one place in China that you can gather people together to remember this history.”
Still, Lam said that he hadn’t learned of the tragedy in school. He’d had to search the internet for information. Tiananmen is not in the Hong Kong history books, he said.
Lam explained that the most popular song of the evening, “The Freedom of Flower,” expressed that it is “very hard to get the truth from the Chinese government, but that we need to do what we can do to earn the truth.”
Along with candles, the organizers distributed jasmine flowers. The flowers were a reference to the scattered mainland protests of the past year.
Families with small children and older people were in attendance, but young people were in the majority.
“The elderly may cry at this gathering; we need to remember this history. We need to face the truth,” said Lam.
Hon Chising is one of the members of the older generation at the event. He was there as a volunteer, but because the event was so peaceful and well-organized, he had time to listen to songs about remembering what he called “the heroes of 1989.”
“Tonight, there’s a lot of feeling, because we are Chinese and this is the only place where Chinese can have freedom.”
Chising was born and lives in Hong Kong. But he was working in Beijing as an interior designer on the 4th of June in 1989. He took a lot of photos and bore witness to the stories of that day. “I was there. It touched my heart greatly.”
He is devoted to marking the significance of that year.
“I will come this year, next year and next until the action is successful. Success means the revolution of democracy in1989… the government of China will say ‘I’m wrong’ – that this was the correct action.”
Chising said he will be steadfast in his protest until “they apologize to the Chinese people, to the world.”
He concluded, “maybe until I die, I will stand here.”
The evening culminated in the lighting of a large torch and a stirring speech by Mr. Lee. It was during his speech that two of the younger members of the Alliance broke into tears, their faces contorted with emotion. And if the feelings of the night and turnout are any indication, the Chinese living in Hong Kong and outside China will persist in remembering Tiananmen for years to come. But the question remains whether the protest will spill over the borders of the mainland.