Tiananmen Square massacre marked with Hong Kong vigil

More than 100,000 gather for anniversary but many fear for future of commemoration

More than 100,000 people have gathered in Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The event is the biggest and traditionally the only major commemoration of the incident allowed in China. Taiwan also marked the massacre with a vigil and exhibition on “Tank man” – the man photographed standing in front of tanks on 5 June 1989.

On the mainland, all talk of the Chinese army’s killing of thousands of peaceful student protesters is forbidden. But Hong Kong has had a level of independence under the “one country, two systems” rule enacted after Britain relinquished control to China in 1997.

Demonstrators arrive at the vigil
Demonstrators arrive at the vigil. Photograph: Helen Davidson/The Guardian

On Tuesday evening, crowds filled the six football pitches of Victoria Park, suggesting the number of attendees could break the 2012 record of 180,000.

The streets leading to the park were lined with pro-democracy stalls and demonstrators handing out posters and flyers.

Audrey Eu, a former legislator and a founder of the Civic party, handed out flyers as young members addressed the crowd. “Even though they’re not yet 30 years old, they’re so passionate about it,” she said.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a veteran activist and former legislator, stood on a stepladder at the entrance, thanking and shaking the hands of those who walked in.

“After 30 years, there is still so many candlelight vigils … and so many people come out to fight for their rights, you feel hopeful. How can you give up when others won’t give up?” Lee told the Guardian last week.

Lee Cheuk-yan greets people as they arrive at the vigil
Lee Cheuk-yan greets people as they arrive at the vigil. Photograph: Helen Davidson/The Guardian

“The whole of China is silenced, and we have a window, or a loudspeaker for that in Hong Kong, to tell the world what happened.”

Lee was a young labour organiser in 1989, sent to the student protests in Tiananmen Square with funds activists had raised in Hong Kong.

“I heard the gunshots and saw the tanks rolling in, the rickshaws taking injured people,” he said. “It went from high hope to despair for me.”

Lee was detained and forced to apologise before being allowed to return to Hong Kong, where he now runs the June 4th Museum. He says many visitors are mainlanders, and the museum has been targeted by harassment and vandalism.

“When I came back from Beijing 20 years ago, people told me to make sure you tell the world the truth,” he said.

As night fell in Hong Kong, thousands of candles flickered. People cried as the crowd joined in songs, before chanting slogans and the date of the incident. Footage of the massacre was broadcast on a giant screen and some turned away as the recorded sound of Chinese guns rang out. The crowd broke its silence to yell at an image of the then Chinese leader, Li Peng.

Jimmy So, 60, and Chung King Wah, 70, said they had attended all 30 vigils since the massacre.

“We want the Chinese Communist party to recognise the mistake of the June 4 crackdown and massacre, and we will come here every year until they do,” So said.

Members of the standing committee of the Hong Kong Alliance laid a wreath and lit a flame of remembrance, and key members of the movement addressed the crowd in Cantonese, including the vice-chair, Chow Hang Tung, and representatives of the Tiananmen Mothers group.

A wreath is laid at the vigil
Hong Kong Alliance members lay the wreath. Photograph: Helen Davidson/The Guardian

Lau Ka-yee, a core member of the group who is based in Hong Kong, said she could not visit China because of her activism, and none of the mothers had been able to attend the vigil.

“They even can’t go out of their home in Beijing. Some time about May or June they have to leave Beijing to their home village,” she said.

A proposed Hong Kong bill to allow the transfer of fugitives to mainland China, which many fear will be the end of Hong Kong as a safe haven, was a constant theme at the vigil.

There are widespread fears the new law could be used to target political dissidents and attending the vigil may soon become too dangerous.

Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy legislator, said: “It may sound exaggerated to outsiders, but if you look at China and how it practises its rule of law, if there is such a thing, it’s anything goes.”

Beijing launched a crackdown before the anniversary, detaining key activists or sending them on enforced “vacations”.

Hong Kong immigration officials also assisted, deporting on arrival an exiled dissident and a former Peking University student, Feng Congde, on Sunday evening.

Regina Ip, a legislator, said she believed it was because Congde had intended to go to the vigil.

“Hong Kong allows our people to hold the annual June 4 candlelight vigils. They have a right to express their views, to remember whatever happened 30 years ago,” she said.

“But we don’t have to allow high-profile dissidents to come in and stir up further emotions. What’s the point?”

Lee said Ip’s comments were ridiculous. “We can already stir up the emotion. It’s already there,” he said.

The Guardian travelled to Hong Kong with the assistance of the Judith Neilson Institute.


Helen Davidson in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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