Organisers of the annual June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park have decided not to use a patriotic slogan criticised as stupid by the founder of a group for victims of the 1989 crackdown.
The Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organises the vigil, has decided to drop the "love the country, love the people" slogan. This came after a war of words between core member Tsui Hon-kwong, who has now resigned, and Professor Ding Zilin , founder of the Tiananmen Mothers' support group, whose son was killed in the crackdown.
On Thursday, Ding criticised the slogan that the alliance adopted for this year as "stupid" and out of sync with mainland people's thinking.
Tsui hit back in an e-mail, accusing Ding of not understanding the situation in Hong Kong and said she had developed "Stockholm Syndrome" and gone soft on the Communist Party. The row threatens to split the movement, with Ding warning that it would hamper her groups' co-operation with the alliance. Tsui subsequently resigned and Lee Cheuk-yan, the alliance's chairman, apologised to Ding in a phone call yesterday.
Lee said the message for Tuesday's vigil will be "Vindicating June 4; Never Give Up". He said the now-dropped slogan could still appear on some promotional material printed earlier.
Ding said she wanted to put aside the row for now and focus on making this vigil a success.
"When Lee Cheuk-yan asked me if I would accept his apology … I told him, 'Let's not address this issue for now and focus on the event first. After the vigil, we can discuss if we should maintain co-operation'," she said.
Ding said the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong - the largest of its kind and the only one that is openly held on Chinese soil - should not be held "for a certain party or organisation", but for those who died and for China's democracy.
Ding was not alone in criticising the slogan. Some Hong Kong activists campaigning for the city's autonomy from the mainland earlier also called for the slogan to be changed. Some have launched an online campaign to organise an alternative June 4 vigil outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.
One activist said in his blog that he would attend the alternative vigil because he "doesn't identify" himself as Chinese, while others favoured the Tsim Sha Tsui event because it lacked the "so-called patriotism".
Lee earlier defended the slogan and said it was aimed at telling Beijing that Hongkongers love the country but not the ruling Communist Party.
"The vigil is to mourn the martyrs of democracy and to pass on the spirit … I hope everyone who attends the occasion can focus on this," Lee said. "In recent years, more than 150,000 people turned up. I hope this year there will be more than that."
Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, a core member of the alliance, also said the opposition to the slogan was understandable.
"The 'patriotism' notion is contaminated and has been hijacked by the Communist Party as a tool for persecuting dissent," Ho said. "But the country belongs to the people."
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the controversy highlighted the "positioning dilemma" of the alliance in recent years.
"In the last year or two, a localist sentiment has been on the rise in the city," Choy said.