Tiananmen Square crackdown

June 4 vigil still resonates with contemporary events in China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 5:26am

China has changed so much there is a tendency to think people do not remember the tragedy of the brutal crackdown on the student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago today. But some things don't change. Tonight, for the 25th time, tens of thousands of Hongkongers are expected to turn out for a candlelight vigil to ensure that the victims of the tragedy are not forgotten.

Because a quarter of a century is a landmark anniversary, the attendance in Victoria Park tonight will be more closely watched than usual as a measure of public interest. Since the 20th anniversary in 2009, younger people have taken up the candles from the older generation.

On the mainland there will be no overt commemoration or recognition, because the country has still not come to terms with this chapter in its history to that extent. The usual round-up of dissenting voices and restrictions on victims' families ahead of the anniversary are evidence of that.

China stands by the official verdict that it was necessary to send PLA troops against protesters in Tiananmen Square to put the country on course for stable development, a goal since achieved. Certainly the country's leaders perceived a real threat of overthrow of the government and anarchy, even if their method of dealing with it was questionable.

Unfortunately, the events of June 4 remain influential in perceptions of China, thanks partly to the lasting impact in Hong Kong, where the crackdown remains a factor in the discord between local democrats and Beijing.

The city is now known the world over as the host, on Chinese soil, of the biggest June 4 commemorative event. If the vigil is to be observed by future generations, it would be a shame for China if it is not transformed into a celebration of reconciliation and patriotism.

For that to happen, the central government would have to revisit the official verdict and make amends. This would bring a measure of justice to victims and their families and pave the way for the country to emerge fully from the remaining shadows cast by the crackdown.

After 25 years, the candlelight vigil still resonates with contemporary events, such as the unprecedented Communist Party crackdown on high-level official corruption, one of the issues of the Tiananmen Square protests, and continued denial of free speech.