Hong Kong Marks June 4 Massacre Anniversary Amid Discord Over Its Own Future

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china-hongkong-protest-june42015.jpg Hong Kong Federation of Social Work Students oommemorates the massacre at Tiananmen Square, June 4, 2015.
From the group's Facebook

Tens of thousands of people gathered in parks and public spaces in Hong Kong on Thursday to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement in China, but also the city's own pro-democracy movement last year.

The crowds poured into Victoria Park amid the neon-clad skyscrapers of Causeway Bay for a mass candlelight vigil, filling up the space of six football fields, singing anthems of the 1989 movement, and bowing three times to remember those who died.

A youth group lit a lamp with an Olympic-style torch under the slogan "Build a Democratic China" and presented memorial wreaths at a temporary replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue and a monument to "martyrs of the democratic movement," echoing a similar monument to revolutionary heroes on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Symbols of the Umbrella Movement, which took its name from the umbrellas used by protesters on Sept. 28 to ward off pepper spray attacks by police, were woven into the event, which used a yellow umbrella and candle for its logo.

"Occupy was in a way a mini-June 4 for Hong Kong," pan-democratic lawmaker and vigil organizer Lee Cheuk-yan told reporters, in a reference to the 79-day Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections in 2017.

"We should not separate our fight for democracy from that of China's," said Lee, adding, "We should link up the two and fight in unity."

Growing divisions

But the memorial took place amid growing social divisions in the city, the only place in China where public memorials are allowed to mark the massacre of civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), with breakaway events held for the first time, and following scuffles with pro-Beijing activists.

Police intervened to hold apart pro-Beijing protesters who showed up during preparations for the candlelight event in Victoria Park on Thursday, following shouting and scuffles that lasted around 10 minutes.

Elsewhere in the city, separate memorial events were held, reflecting growing division among Hong Kong activists in the wake of the city's own Occupy Central pro-democracy movement last year.

A tourist from across the internal immigration border in mainland China said he had deliberately timed his trip to attend the vigil.

"If you want to find out about these events [in China], you have to ... get information from outside the Great Firewall [of Chinese government censorship]," the man, who gave only his surname Yan, told RFA.

"Now I have the opportunity to experience the atmosphere myself, when I take part in the memorial event alongside everybody else," Yan said.

The event's organizers hammered home the link between last year's 79-day Umbrella Movement and the events of June 3-4, 1989, with this year's slogan "Build a Democratic China."

Only one target

Deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Richard Choi, said he was respectful of other groups' desire to hold a different kind of event this year.

"Our only adversary, the only target of our protest, our challenge, is the Communist Party regime," Choi said.

But he defended the idea that the June 4 vigil is irrevocably linked to Hong Kong's own democracy movement.

"This has been happening in Hong Kong for more than 20 years without a break, and it is a very important form of local protest," Choi said.

For the first time since a million people turned out on Hong Kong's streets in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, the city's student federation has boycotted the main event, while students and local activists held smaller events elsewhere, including on the waterfront at Tsimshatsui.

Pan-democratic Civic Party deputy chairman Tanya Chan appeared to take the view that all movements go through periods of fragmentation, however.

"There is a time for breaking apart, and a time for coming together," Chan said. "This is normal."

Chan said the symbolic meaning of the Victoria Park vigil is to keep the memory of the crackdown alive and to call on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to revise its official verdict that the bloodshed was necessary to put an end to the threat of a violent "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

"We will continue to do this until they overturn this verdict," Chan told RFA, adding: "But different people have different ways of mourning. That's understandable."

'Remain aware'

Social work student Lo Man-kit said the event is also important as a way of reminding Hong Kong people not to forgo their political awareness under Beijing's rule.

"We light up Causeway Bay in a circle of flame to express our demands regarding June 4, but also to awaken the people of Hong Kong to a greater awareness," Lo said.

"[They] shouldn't bury their conscience ... we want to wake up people's feelings through singing."

Among the anthems sung by the crowd on Thursday was "Bloodstained Glory," a revolutionary war anthem originally written as a paean to those who died during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war but adopted by the student-led protesters on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The scenes, slickly shot and streamed live online by the pro-democracy Next Media group, recalled the drone footage of hundreds of thousands of smartphone lights during the Umbrella Movement that occupied major highways in downtown Hong Kong last year in a bid to win universal suffrage.

That movement was sparked by an Aug. 31 decree from China's parliament that while Hong Kong's five million voters will cast a ballot for the city's chief executive in 2017, they may only choose among candidates pre-selected by Beijing.

Pan-democratic lawmakers, who have vowed to block the reform package later this month in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, and political activists have dismissed the plan as "fake universal suffrage," and have called for public nominations.

Many who joined the crowds of hundreds of thousands at the movement's height in October said they were also worried at the erosion of Hong Kong's existing freedoms in the wake of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule following a series of violent attacks on outspoken media figures.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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