Hong Kong Museum of 1989 Tiananmen Massacre Reopens Ahead of Anniversary

2017-05-01
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Museum event organizers in Hong Kong hold cards commemorating 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, April 30, 2017.
Museum event organizers in Hong Kong hold cards commemorating 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, April 30, 2017.
RFA

A Hong Kong museum commemorating the 1989 student-led democracy movement in China, and the military crackdown on unarmed civilians that ended weeks of protest on the night of June 3, has opened its doors once more, despite being forced to close amid growing political pressure two years ago.

Located in an 800-square-foot (74-square-meter) office space in Kowloon, the June 4 Memorial Museum was forced out of its current premises following a lengthy legal dispute with the building's landlords, which the organizers believe was politically motivated.

It opened on Sunday, and will offer a temporary exhibit through June 15. Hong Kong is the only Chinese city that still holds regular memorial events for the victims of the massacre on the night of June 3-4, 1989, including a mass candlelight vigil in downtown Victoria Park.

Hong Kong lawmaker and rights lawyer Albert Ho, whose Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China runs the museum, said the new premises in a suburban neighborhood of Kowloon are only temporary, and that the organizers are still looking for a permanent home for it.

"I think a lot of us feel that it would be better to have a permanent home," Ho told RFA. "But we are hoping to put some of the donations we get this year into a fund."

"With a bit more funding, I think we will possibly have more choice of location."

Organizers currently have around one million U.S. dollars, but need two million more to buy a suitable property, Ho told reporters.

Outreach to the young

Ho said the museum hopes to use social media to attract younger people to learn about the weeks of student-led protests in the spring and early summer of 1989 that brought central Beijing to a standstill.

The protests eventually ended in a bloody crackdown by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), ordered by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

"We want to reach out and communicate and start a conversation with more young people, in the hope that they will take interest in, and care about, this [event in our history] and attend more of the memorial candlelight vigils and demonstrations," Ho said.

Alliance secretary Lee Cheuk-yan said the exhibit shows images of the demonstrations and the aftermath of the crackdown, as well as focusing on the role played by student leaders.

"This temporary exhibit uses experiential features, inviting the visitor to reflect on [the experience of those who took part]," Lee said.

"The aim is to provoke reflection in the people who come and visit, about issues like whether or not the students should have agreed to leave [the Square], whether or not they should have gone on hunger strike, whether or not they should have tried to block the columns of tanks," he said.

Beijing behind complaints

Organizers have previously said they suspect that Beijing may be behind the ongoing complaints against the museum in its previous location, where landlords said it was breaching the building's commercial-use zoning regulations.

The museum has drawn more than 20,000 visitors since it first opened in 2014, marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre, which Beijing has styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Around half of its visitors come from mainland China, which has erased references to the bloodshed from official accounts and bans public debate or memorials for victims.

The museum's exhibits include photographs of the protests and massacre, touching mementos saved from the scene, and a two-meter replica of the towering Goddess of Democracy statue that featured in the protests.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms and separate legal jurisdiction for 50 years under the "one country, two systems" pledge from Beijing.

But there are signs that those freedoms may already be eroding, following a string of arrests of former participants in Hong Kong's 2014 democracy movement and of anti-Beijing protesters and the removal of two pro-independence lawmakers from the city's Legislative Council.

Chinese officials have also warned that Beijing could enact laws governing subversion in Hong Kong, and extend them to cover the city by decree of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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