Tiananmen Square crackdown

Why June 4 vigil remains relevant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am


Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. Thousands will gather in Victoria Park tonight for the annual candle-light vigil remembering those who lost their lives when PLA troops crushed a peaceful student protest. Continuing support for the vigil shows that the tragedy still arouses strong feelings in our city. Memories have not faded. It is a time for remembrance and reflection, but also hopes for the future.

China has undergone dramatic change since that dark day in 1989. Economic reforms have brought about extraordinary growth and lifted millions out of poverty. The country has opened up and now plays an increasingly important role on the world stage. Hong Kong has changed, too. The crackdown sparked fears about the future of our city after its return to China, then only eight years away. But these insecurities have long since given way to confidence, increasing integration and a growing sense of national identity and pride.

But tonight's vigil takes place against the background of a fresh drive against dissent by authorities on the mainland. Numerous rights activists, lawyers and dissidents have been detained or jailed. They include internationally recognised artist Ai Weiwei and pro-democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in jail last year. The intolerance shown by the authorities towards differing voices ensures the June 4 vigil, the only one of its kind on Chinese soil, remains relevant.

Many thought that interest might have peaked with the huge, deeply moving, turnout for the 20th anniversary two years ago. It was felt that the passing years would weary those who had lit candles. Last year's attendance, nearly comparable with the previous year's, confounded this expectation. Moreover, the torch of remembrance appeared to have been taken up by a new generation represented by under-30s. Tonight's vigil will be the first since the death of Szeto Wah, who had been such a driving force behind the event.

The Tiananmen crackdown continues to influence perceptions of China around the world, casting a shadow over the nation's achievements. The longer discussion of it is suppressed, the more difficult reconciliation will become. There is a need for the country to face up to the tragedy and deal with it openly, fairly and with compassion. The protesters were peacefully airing grievances and raising concerns shared by some of China's leaders at the time. Tonight's vigil is therefore a reminder of the precious freedoms of speech and assembly we continue to enjoy in Hong Kong. The underlying theme is patriotic - the hope that China will one day reverse the official verdict on Tiananmen and bring a measure of justice to the victims and comfort to the families who still mourn.