Every June 4, a reminder that patriotism is alive and well

Stephen Vines sees it in our resolve to face up to and understand the past

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 1:48am

When people ask me whether the concept of "one country, two systems" has been whittled away, I always insist that this is not quite the case and cite as proof the massive vigils held to commemorate the June 4 suppression of China's democracy movement.

Hong Kong is in its second decade under Chinese rule, yet, as clearly seen on Wednesday, the spirit of the democracy movement remains embedded in the hearts of Hong Kong people, especially among young people not even born in 1989.

Some critics say that the vigil has turned into little more than a routine ceremony, increasingly bereft of meaning, but it's not clear what alternative they have in mind.

Meanwhile, for the first time, we saw a tiny group of massacre deniers trying to challenge the veracity of the events being commemorated. Like Holocaust deniers, they must carefully consider whether they are really prepared to be so entirely on the wrong side of history.

A more subtle and increasingly heard version of massacre denial comes from apologists for the crackdown who won't go so far as to bluntly say that it never happened, but suggest that somehow the protesters brought it on themselves and that the time has come for Hong Kong people to "put the past behind them and look forward".

This weasel-like apologia is no less odious than the suggestion that rape victims have, in some way, encouraged their attackers.

Vile innuendos of this kind have no place in decent society, nor should there be a comfortable place for those who say that the dead of Tiananmen Square deserved their fate and that the best way forward is to forget - without there being any rectification of the official verdict which labels the massacre as no more than a way of restoring order.

The tens of thousands of Hong Kong people who were in Victoria Park on Wednesday night and have gathered there every year for the past quarter of a century are clear in their resolve not to forget.

Many of them also feel it is their duty to be present in the only place on Chinese soil where this vigil is permitted. They are conscious that the liberty they enjoy to conduct this act of remembrance is meaningless unless it is exercised.

Moreover, they are also concerned about Hong Kong itself, where liberty is being eroded and progress towards the kind of democracy demanded by the Tiananmen protesters is increasingly being thwarted.

Progress is not aided by amnesia but by understanding the past, honouring the victims of the struggle and learning the lessons of what it takes to stand up to an authoritarian state determined to confine power to a small elite.

Anyone who has been in Victoria Park knows that this is a truly remarkable gathering of the young and old, the rich and the poor, mainlanders and Hongkongers, and those who have disagreements on a whole range of issues but are united in their determination not to allow the memory of June 4 to fade.

In short, Hong Kong is seen at its very best. Here we have an answer to those who claim that Hong Kong people only care about themselves. And at the vigil, we see a magnificent refutation of the falsehood that Hong Kong people only care about money.

The truth is that there is real patriotism in Hong Kong that does not manifest itself among the serried ranks of reward-seeking "patriots" but among the people striving for a better China.

If that means dwelling on the past, so be it, but the reality is that a nation unable to come to terms with its past is doomed to face an uncertain future.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur


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