The people have not forgotten

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 June, 2009, 12:00am

History turned full circle last night when an estimated 150,000 candle-bearers illuminated Victoria Park to commemorate those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown - the same number who massed for the first vigil in 1990.

But the number of mourners on the 20th anniversary of the crackdown was probably far higher. Thousands of people massed outside the jam-packed park, unable to enter. Organisers said 50,000 were left at the gates.

Many in the crowd remarked at the number of young people present.

With flickering flames in their hands, protesters chanted their demands for vindication of those killed by troops in Beijing and for a democratic China free of corruption.

'Twenty years have passed and the bloodstains on Tiananmen Square have long been washed away,' said Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organises the annual vigil. 'But this episode in history is still engraved on the hearts of people who have a sense of justice. We can still smell the blood ... We have won this battle against forgetting,' he told the crowd.

Police put last night's attendance at 62,800. Last year 48,000 took part, according to organisers, while police put the number at 15,700.

Alliance chairman Szeto Wah said the turnout - including many young people born after 1989 - showed the success of efforts to pass the flame of remembrance to a new generation.

The stream of people flooding into the park in early evening quickly filled its six soccer pitches and by 8pm had spilled into neighbouring areas. In the crowded streets outside, it took more than 20 minutes to walk the 200 metres from Tin Hau MTR station to the park gates.

Activists said such scenes had not been seen since the anti-government march on July 1, 2003, when 500,000 took to the streets.

'Every single candle represents the unforgettable mark of the June 4 massacre,' the alliance's manifesto said. 'We are lighting up hopes for democracy and freedom in China.'

Many in the crowd wept as wreaths were laid before a makeshift 'memorial to the martyrs'.

Six days after stepping on Chinese soil for the first time in 17 years, Xiong Yan , the first exiled former leader of the student protests in Beijing to join the annual vigil, told the crowd: 'Hong Kong is the pride of all Chinese - because you have people who dare to defend freedom.'

Excerpts from the audio-taped memoirs recorded by late Communist Party secretary general Zhao Ziyang , who sympathised with the student protesters, were played, along with a recorded message from Ding Zilin , leader of the Tiananmen Mothers group of bereaved parents campaigning for justice for their dead children.

Jeers went up from the crowd when an image of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - who stirred controversy last month with his call for an 'objective assessment' of June 4 - was shown on giant screens next to that of former premier Li Peng , who was among those held responsible for ordering the crackdown.

While the vigil formally ended at 10.30pm, many chose to linger to hear pro-democracy songs, among them Freedom Flowers, which includes the line: 'We have a dream. It won't die. Remember.'