June 4 vigil takes on new meaning
Tony Cheung and Ada Lee
Hong Kong has a new role as a source of information on the Tiananmen Square crackdown and as an outlet for political voices forbidden in the mainland, local activists say, after a record number of people attended Monday's memorial.
The Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organised the Victoria Park vigil to mark the June 4, 1989, anniversary, estimated that one-tenth of the 180,000 attendees were from the mainland. Police put overall crowd numbers at 85,000.
'In the past, we were the only Chinese city to hold large-scale memorials ... but almost all participants were Hongkongers,' said Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, vice-chairman of the alliance. 'Now mainlanders are getting information [about the crackdown] that is forbidden in the mainland.'
The alliance raised HK$2.3 million on Monday night, about 80 per cent more than last year. Of that, about HK$24,000 were in Chinese yuan, up 25 per cent from last year.
Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan also said: 'The biggest change in Hong Kong's role is the level of interaction. Mainlanders are now utilising freedoms in Hong Kong to express their emotions and their wishes for democracy.'
Lee said he found it encouraging to meet some mainlanders who were attending the vigil for the third time, and believed local youths contributed to the record turnout.
Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung was asked to comment on yesterday's record, and whether he would join such events after leaving his post, but he only reiterated that 'the government has always respected people's right to express their views and will continue to do so'.
Students and civilians holding pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989 died during the military crackdown. Death toll estimates range from the hundreds to the thousands.
For 24-year-old clerk Lam Zhuzhu, who arrived in the city from Shenzhen on Monday afternoon, the memorial activities in Hong Kong were eye-opening.
She said she 'came especially for the candlelight vigil and the museum', which held an event in Sham Shui Po, where she read a book about the crackdown. 'I knew nothing about the crackdown until two years ago, when I read it from Hong Kong newspapers.'
Lam, who left Hong Kong yesterday, said she would encourage her friends to join her next year. 'I hope the city will influence democratic development in the mainland, instead of the reverse. Otherwise the city will be controlled by Beijing,' she said.
Fang Zheng, whose legs were crushed by a tank in the Tiananmen crackdown, said the large mainland contingent at the vigil reflected Hong Kong's key role in pushing forward the democratic movement on the mainland.
'I have met many travellers from the mainland these past few days. I'm very touched. They are suppressed in the mainland and don't dare express their views. But in Hong Kong, they can speak their minds,' he said.
'It's not easy to maintain democracy in Hong Kong, but freedom must be maintained for the city to unleash its power,' he said in a visit to democracy advocate Szeto Wah's grave yesterday. Fang leaves for his home in the United States today.
While there were views that Hong Kong could transform into a base for mainland activists, Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok was sceptical about this idea. Still, Ma believes Hongkongers will continue to take centre stage in pro-democracy activities.
Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu agreed with Ma, but expressed worry at pressure from Beijing. 'There will continue to be a struggle between civil and institutional forces in [Hong Kong] because the central government wants less and less of these activities,' he said.