Organizers delivered powerful speeches and rousing songs to tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who gathered on June 4 this year to honor those killed by the Chinese Army in Beijing 25 years ago.
But for me, the most memorable moments of Hong Kong’s commemoration were the quiet ones — the sea of candle-lights, the soft voices recorded on video of the “Tiananmen Mothers” mourning their lost sons and daughters, and the reading of the names of those who died. Those names included a girl who was only nine years old.
Another moment allowing for quiet reflection was a minute of silence during which the people bowed their heads. Then there was the silence surrounding a small group of young and old participants who laid a wreath at a replica of the Monument to the People’s Heroes located at Tiananmen Square.
I suspect, however, that it was the Tiananmen Mothers who touched the most hearts in the crowd, which the organizers estimated to number more than 180,000.
This was certainly the case at the small museum established in April on the other side of Hong Kong’s harbor to commemorate the victims of the Army crackdown on June 4, 1989.
I visited the museum together with an American journalist colleague several hours before attending the rally, which was held in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.
Johnny Li, a staff member at the museum, said that the most popular exhibits were video footage from 1989 and a small theatre featuring a video of the Tiananmen Mothers speaking out about how the killing of their children had affected their lives.
'The feeling of hell'
Ding Zilin, the founder of the Mothers group, spoke softly of “wandering back and forth between life and death during the first two years” after her only child was shot in the back and killed.
“The feeling of hell was always there,” Ding said. “The pain of losing my son haunts me all the time.”
She said that she was so devastated by her son’s death that she could barely find her voice. In the end she found the courage to speak up.
I asked myself who could deny the voice of a mother who bears testimony while bravely holding back tears?
On this day at the museum, mainland Chinese who were visiting Hong Kong outnumbered Hong Kong citizens who were there.
One of the mainlanders, a woman architect from Guangzhou, said that even inside mainland China, “if you really want to know what happened at Tiananmen, you can find out.”
She said that her brother had sparked her curiosity when he asked her what had happened in 1989.
She then found a YouTube video, which is apparently now blocked in mainland China.
She said, however, that most of her friends don’t know what happened” or “don’t bother to find out.”
One way to find out the truth would be to spend just an hour in the Hong Kong museum watching the Tiananmen Mothers quietly speaking one after another.
As for the noisy rally, the citizens of Hong Kong are used to constant noise.
Indeed, they tend to relish shouting and laughing at lunches and dinners in noisy restaurants together with their families and friends.
So I’m guessing that the loud speeches and music at a rally would be more welcomed by them than they would be by some Westerners such as myself.
But several of my Hong Kong friends who have worked as journalists and commentators suggested to me that there should be fewer politicians speaking at the annual vigils.
This would allow for more quiet moments and a greater sense of solemnity, they said.
It might also, they said, garner even broader support for the annual candlelight vigils.
Dan Southerland is RFA's Executive Editor.