In Hong Kong, memories of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China are being erased

The atmosphere will be hostile and depressing at the same time. Speakers will demand accountability from the Chinese Communist Party for the bloody military crackdown on unarmed pro-democracy protesters on that fateful day in Beijing, which has claimed hundreds if not thousands.

In memory of the dead, every year at 8pm the park will turn into a sea of ​​candles, which people hold high with the promise that they will never forget.

This year, whether those candles will be lit again will be a litmus test for Hong Kong, its independence and aspirations, and its relations with both China and the rest of the world.

Mainland Chinese authorities have always tried their best to erase all memories of the genocide: censoring news reports, scrubbing all references from the Internet, arresting and deporting protest organizers, and keeping relatives of those killed under strict surveillance. . As a result, the mainland Chinese generation grew up without knowledge of the June 4 incident.

But Hong Kong always has the ability to remember. In the years following the genocide, Hong Kong was still a British colony beyond the reach of Chinese censors. And even after Britain handed over sovereignty to China in 1997, the city enjoyed a semi-autonomous status that allowed surveillance to continue.

Although recently the candles in Victoria Park have gone out. Authorities banned surveillance in 2020 and 2021, citing coronavirus health restrictions – although many Hong Kongers believe it was an excuse to quell public outcry in 2019 following pro-democracy protests surrounding the city.

On June 3, 1989, as protests continued in central Beijing, a student called for the troops to return home.
In 2020, despite the lack of an organized surveillance, thousands of Hong Kongers went to the park in defiance of the authorities. But last year, the government put more than 3,000 riot police on standby to prevent unauthorized gatherings – and the park remained in darkness for the first time in more than three decades.

With Hong Kong now relaxing many of its coveted restrictions, all eyes will be on this year’s “six fours” – as the date is known locally – not just as a barometer of the political environment, but as a government tolerant of hunger and dissent from Hong Kong residents.

A litmus test

For proponents of awakening, the initial symptoms are not good.

Critics say Hong Kong has taken an authoritarian turn since the rise of its own pro-democracy protests. In fact, its next leader, just a few weeks after taking office, was named John Lee – a notorious security chief who helped quell the protests.

Many critics have said that if the Hong Kong government again bans the event on the basis of Kovid, it will expand its credibility. Yet what the outgoing chief executive, Carrie Lam, seems to have suggested. At the end of May, Lam gave an unequivocal response when asked if people gathered in Victoria Park on June 4 would face legal action.

“There are a lot of legal requirements for any gathering,” Lam told reporters. “There is a national security law, there are social-distance restrictions and there is also the question of a place … the owner of the event has to decide whether a certain activity is allowed to take place in a certain place.”

Underlining the government’s opposition to surveillance, Hong Kong police said Thursday they had noticed “publicity, support and incitement of others to take part in an unauthorized rally in the Victoria Park area” on June 4 and advised the public not to attend.

Police cited the Kovid system and a public order ordinance and warned that those who organized advertising or illegal rallies could be charged and jailed. There will be an “adequate deployment” of police officers in the area, senior superintendent Liao Ka Kei said, adding that police had not received any requests for a public memorial.

On May 20, 1989, pro-democracy protesters surrounded a truck carrying Chinese troops on their way to Tiananmen Square.

Asked if people in Hong Kong could be arrested for protesting, carrying flowers or wearing black, Liao said those seen inciting others to join illegal rallies would be stopped and searched, and reiterated that illegal rallies were a maximum of five. Carries for years. Prison term, when convicted of incitement can be up to 12 months.

Police will also target online provocations to gather, Liao said.

It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Hong Kong raised concerns about the Catholic Diocese Act when it recently announced that for the first time in three decades its churches would not hold their annual Tiananmen Mass.

The National Security Act is an explicit law introduced by the central Chinese government in Hong Kong and came into force in late June 2020 – just weeks after Hong Kong lifted its 2020 surveillance ban.

Central and local governments have said the law was needed to restore order in the city after the pro-democracy protests, which they claimed were being fueled by foreign elements. It outlaws separatism, insurgency, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers; Authorities insisted it did not violate freedom of the press or freedom of speech.

“After the implementation of the National Security Act, chaos in Hong Kong has been stopped and discipline has been restored,” the Hong Kong government said on May 20.

People hold candles during an observation in Hong Kong on June 4, 2018.

Nevertheless, many Hong Kongers say the law has ended their dream of an independent, more democratic city.

Pro-democracy activists, former elected members of parliament and journalists have been arrested since the law went into effect. Thousands of Hong Kong residents have fled the city, with some fleeing persecution and seeking refuge abroad.

The organizers of the Tiananmen Vigil broke up and some of them were sent to jail. Among their alleged transgressions are: acting as “foreign agents” and urging the public to celebrate the anniversary of the genocide.

Fate is involved

The fortunes of Tiananmen Square and Hong Kong have long been involved.

Even before the genocide, when student protesters in Beijing will use the square as a basis for government reform and greater democracy, Hong Kong residents will rally in solidarity. Many will even travel to the Chinese capital to offer support.

And when the Beijing People’s Liberation Army decided to send troops to forcibly clear a protest square armed with rifles and tanks – which attracted thousands of students – early June 4, 1989, the Hong Kong support proposal was among the first.

There are no official figures on how many student protesters were killed that day, but estimates range from hundreds to thousands, with many more injured. It is estimated that 10,000 people were arrested during and after the protests. Dozens of protesters have been executed.

BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) - A lone man with a shopping bag temporarily halted the advance of a Chinese tank after a bloody crackdown on protesters on June 5, 1989.

Of those who fled, about 500 were rescued by an underground network called “Operation Yellow Bird”, which helped smuggle organizers and others into the risk of arrest in Hong Kong, then a British territory.

The following year, the Hong Kong Alliance began organizing annual surveillance of Victoria Park in support of China’s patriotic democratic movement, and it continued to develop long after Hong Kong, despite fears that the Beijing event might close after the 1997 transfer of sovereignty. New incarnation as a special administrative region of China.

Organizers estimate that the last surveillance was held in 2019, with more than 180,000 people taking part.

Decreased memory

Since that last surveillance, many symbols of the city’s ability to publicly remember, protest and mourn the genocide have been removed.

In September 2021, the Hong Kong Alliance – the organizer of the surveillance – decided to break up, citing the National Security Act.

Several of its members have been charged with sabotage under the Security Act, and some of its key figures, including a former lawmaker, have been jailed for holding unauthorized rallies.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered at Victoria Park in the city to mark the 31st anniversary of the 2020 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

After announcing the group’s dissolution, Richard Soe, a former vice-chairman of the alliance, said: “I believe that the people of Hong Kong – regardless of personal or other powers – will continue to remember June 4 as before.”

Yet since Soy spoke, more reminiscences of what happened on June 4, 1989, have slipped out of sight.

Last December, the University of Hong Kong removed its “Pillar of Shame”, an iconic sculpture commemorating the Tiananmen massacre that has stood on its campus for more than 20 years. Several other local universities have also erected memorials.
Two children "Pillar of shame"  Statue on the Hong Kong University campus in Hong Kong on October 15, 2021.
In April, a controversial Tiananmen painting was removed from Hong Kong’s flagship new art museum M + in a number of works containing political content, although the organization said the removal was part of a regular “rotation” of the exhibited art.
And the decision not to mark the date of the Catholic diocese came just weeks after the arrest of 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s oldest Catholic clerics and an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, along with three other pro-democracy activists.

Nevertheless, there are those who say that they will continue to speak out in order to preserve the memory of Tiananmen.

After the arrest of former Hong Kong Alliance leader Chou Hang-tung last year, he offered an emotional defense in court, condemning what he said was “a step towards systematically erasing history, both the Tiananmen genocide and Hong Kong’s own civil history.” “

Even though the court was ready to sentence him to 15 months, he was a defendant. “Whatever the sentence, I will continue to say what I want to say,” he said in a comment posted online this January.

“Even if I was convicted by candlelight, I would still call on the people to stand up, whether it is June 4 this year or every June 4 in the years to come.”

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