June 4 vigil in Hong Kong

Love of people and country is intrinsic to June 4 rally

Stephen Vines bears witness to the sense of solidarity that brings hope

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 2:11am

As the rain hammered down and the sky was punctured by lightning, it did not deter the many thousands of stout-hearted Hong Kong people who squeezed into Victoria Park on Tuesday to commemorate the June 4 massacre of democracy protesters in Beijing.

Maybe you had to be there to fully appreciate the significance of this event and maybe you need to be a veteran of observing demonstrations around the world to grasp the special nature of this gathering.

It was possible to observe examples of what Hong Kong looks like when its people are at their best

Unlike most demonstrations in other countries, which are generally distinguished by the age, gender or social class of participants, this uniquely Hong Kong event drew participants from every sector. As ever, they were serious and possessed admirable self-control.

Despite the downpour, or maybe because of it, it was possible to observe heart-warming examples of what Hong Kong looks like when its people are at their best: the parent patiently explaining to his young son why they were there and why it was vitally important to stay even though he was drenched; the woman who rushed off to buy large bin bags to give demonstrators some protection from the downpour; the elderly man who took it upon himself to provide a translation of what was being said for some non-Chinese speakers, and so on.

No one told these people what to do, nor were they expecting any reward. On the contrary, they came out of conviction, even though some people maintain that their very presence at this rally is a challenge to social order and a dangerous act of defiance towards Hong Kong's masters.

Yet they were not deterred, nor did they require the dubious encouragement of the latest "Hong Kong: Our Home" government campaign to engender social solidarity.

This was truly a grass-roots event, demonstrating Hongkongers' involvement in civic affairs, generosity, and a determination to be part of history but not its hapless victim.

Before the rally, there was a great deal of fuss over the organiser's original slogan that included the words "love the country". Some people took this as an attempt to mollify the leaders in Beijing and step back from the resolute demand for vindication of the victims of the crackdown.

The slogan was withdrawn, which is a pity because it signalled a determination by the democracy movement not to have the idea of patriotism hijacked by a single political party that also happens to exercise a dictatorship. It was a way of saying that democrats not only love their country but will also fight to make it a better place.

And here lies the key to what we saw on Tuesday and have seen ever since the extraordinary eruption of solidarity with the people of China that occurred on a blazing hot summer's day, June 5, 1989, when maybe as many as a million people poured onto Hong Kong's streets to mourn the victims of the crackdown and affirm their right to struggle for democracy, in the only major Chinese city attached to the mainland where it remained safe to do so.

More than two decades have passed since then, but the candle of solidarity still burns bright.

So who are the true patriots in Hong Kong? Are they the bedraggled mass seen in Victoria Park earlier this week? Or are they the small coterie of office holders and seekers who quite literally wear their patriotism on their breasts with an array of badges, medals and little enamel flags? What sacrifices are they prepared to make for the country, aside from writing cheques?

Readers of this newspaper are intelligent so there's no need to answer these questions. But it remains a mystery why anyone should be allowed to get away with the absurd allegation that this magnificent event in Victoria Park undermines China.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur