Organisers do not rule out a turnout for tonight's vigil to mark the 24th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown in Tiananmen Square that compares with last year's record estimate of 180,000. They have been surprised before by the response of a younger generation that has taken up the torch of remembrance, confounding expectations that interest would have peaked with the 20th anniversary four years ago.
This year, however, the lead up has been marred by division. The pan-democratic organisers appealed to Hongkongers to remain united behind the vigil after a call for a boycott by pro-autonomy activists, who objected to a slogan that embraced the mainland as well as Hong Kong. The organisers finally tried to defuse the row by not using some of the slogan's words during the vigil. It remains to be seen if the spat affects the turnout.
On the other hand, contemporary events in the mainland have once again reminded Hongkongers that the grievances and issues aired by the Tiananmen pro-democracy protesters remain relevant to young people today. This can do no harm to the turnout. Two years ago the vigil took place as the authorities launched a fresh crackdown against dissent. Last year the scandal of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai highlighted political corruption and the need for political reform. This year, according to reports, the Communist Party has just delivered a blow to hopes for reform by declaring seven topics of taboo in university teaching, including universal values, press freedom and civil rights. This may resonate with young people's ideals.
In amending the slogan by deleting the words, "Love the country, love the people …" the organisers have, arguably, acted in the spirit of those words, for the sake of unity. That is not to say the pro-autonomy line prevailed. The reality is that Hong Kong is under the control of China, but enjoys core democratic freedoms that set it apart. Indeed, for many, the vigil symbolises their care about the country and their longing for it to share democracy. That's a fundamental difference of emphasis between the organisers and the autonomy advocates.
Long may we continue the tradition of the vigil, with its underlying theme of patriotism, in the hope that China will make amends for June 4 by reversing the official verdict and bringing a measure of justice to the victims and their families. Only then can the country emerge fully from the shadow cast by a terrible chapter in its history.