Tiananmen Square crackdown

Media relive Tiananmen so the people won't forget

Journalists reprint book documenting the bloody event in 1989 that marked a turning point for press freedom on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 4:05am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 8:26am

"The people will not forget," it was said after the Tiananmen Square incident a quarter of a century ago.

And the Hong Kong journalists who witnessed the crackdown 25 years ago today are still making an effort to keep the memory of the bloody event fresh in the minds of the people.

Ahead of the anniversary this year, those journalists have reprinted 2,000 copies of the book People Will Not Forget, a compilation of essays they wrote after returning from covering the unrest on the mainland in 1989.

The books will be on sale during the annual candlelight vigil at Victoria Park tonight. In the past 25 years, 70,000 copies of the book have been sold.

The mainland authorities' crackdown on civilian protesters marked the closing of the door to press freedom that had been gradually widening in the few years before the political turmoil, the journalists said.

"In the few years prior to June 4, 1989, the government realised that opening up to the media was beneficial to it," said Johnny Lau Yui-siu, who was the pro-government Wen Wei Po's Beijing bureau chief in the 1980s.

He was one of the Hong Kong newspaper's few correspondents in Beijing at the time the student movement broke out. Lau, now an independent commentator, is one of People Will Not Forget's 64 co-authors.

"The Hong Kong media started to cover China news in the 1980s for two reasons," Lau said.

"Firstly, Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong's future brought our attention to what happened on the mainland. Secondly, many Hong Kong businesses had started to invest in the mainland after it began opening up to the outside world."

Former Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting, who was a young political reporter covering the incident in Beijing for Hong Kong Daily News, said: "The mainland was unprecedentedly open to the media in the mid-1980s."

Mak is now a Hong Kong correspondent for Radio France Internationale.

Lau and Mak recalled how Beijing relaxed restrictions on the media in the 1980s, before tightening its grip again after the crackdown. They lamented how much press freedom on the mainland had regressed compared with the pre-1989 days.

"Initially, the foreign ministry did not allow Hong Kong reporters to cover state leaders' visits to foreign countries," Lau said. "Later, I managed to go to some events opened to mainland reporters, such as committee meetings of the National People's Congress. I could approach state leaders, with Deng Xiaoping as the only exception."

Lau, a veteran China watcher, said he believed media control was tightened after 1989 not because of the student movement, but because of the Communist Party's lack of self-confidence.

Mak shared his view.

"In 1985, the annual plenary session of the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was for the first time open to the Hong Kong media," she said. "There were not many rules back then … We even sat among NPC deputies inside the Great Hall of the People and could approach officials to ask them questions."

"After 1989, we had to sit on the balcony on the first floor, and after 1997, on the second floor," Mak said, illustrating the growing distance between journalists and mainland officials.

She said Hong Kong's role in exposing injustice on the mainland had faded compared with in 1989, when many mainland citizens counted on Hong Kong journalists to tell the world of the goings-on on the mainland.

Some sources had since turned to foreign media as they feared Hong Kong's media was losing its independence, she said.