Supporters of the bloody June 4 crackdown in Tiananmen Square protested as the world's first permanent museum devoted to the 1989 democracy movement opened in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday.
Despite the protests and threats of a lawsuit by the building's owners' corporation, museum organisers welcomed international media and people who saw the crackdown at first hand for the launch of the display.
The 800 square foot museum is on the fifth floor of Foo Hoo Centre, an office block on Austin Avenue. Visitors enter through what organisers describe as a "time corridor", a narrow passage intended to evoke the suppression the Beijing students felt.
At the heart of the museum is a two-metre statue of the Goddess of Democracy, like the one students built in Tiananmen. It also contains hundreds of documents, books and microfilms telling the story of the crackdown 25 years ago.
"The museum is for the martyrs who have sacrificed themselves for the June 4 movement. It also represents Hongkongers' struggle to uphold the truth," said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which is running the museum on an annual budget of about HK$800,000.
But the alliance is under pressure. The building's owners' corporation has vowed to sue it for violating the deeds by using its unit as a museum and bringing in large numbers of visitors.
And as Lee and guests welcomed local and international media - including camera crews from Japan and the Netherlands - protesters outside claimed the truth about the crackdown had been "distorted".
The group 6.4 Truth, formed by five organisations including the Justice Alliance and Defend Hong Kong Campaign, displayed banners and wreaths to "mourn the military deaths caused by the students' riot".
One banner read: "The June 4 uprising had lingered for too long, Lee is cheating people."
About 20 people chanted: "It was OK for students to protest, but it took too long … it was right for the state to clear the protest."
Lee said the alliance would defend the lawsuit, which is being privately funded by the chairman of the owners' corporation, Stanly Chau Kwok-chiu.
"We hope to settle the case outside the court ... but we think we have sufficient legal ground. The museum runs … just like a showroom conducting commercial activities," Lee said.
He was sure the lawsuit was "politically motivated" - a claim that Chau denies.
"There was a bar on the first floor in 2011, which would have brought greater nuisances than a museum, but the owners did not sue them," Lee said.
Among yesterday's guests was Jonathan Chan Ching-wa, who saw the crackdown as an observer for the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
"I hope there can be a June 4 museum in Beijing one day," he said.
Other guests included mainland visitors who wanted to learn about June 4. The museum, which offers information in Chinese and English, opens every day except Tuesdays. Admission is HK$10.