Tiananmen Square crackdown

Youth activists look to keep June 4 vigil flames burning

While the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown may seem irrelevant to younger residents, one group hopes to remind the city of its importance in today’s Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 11:26am

Hong Kong’s political activists are grappling with an inconvenient truth: the younger generation are loath to attend the annual vigil in commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown.

That is not merely a demographic problem – with nearly a third of Hong Kong’s population born after the event, more and more people have no living memory of tanks roaring through the streets of Beijing at night and unarmed students being rushed to hospitals, covered in blood.

It is also a deeply political one: disillusioned youngsters have been turning to calls for self-determination and independence after Beijing refused to make concessions on achieving full democracy. Opposed to China at heart, they question the need for a vigil that calls for a more democratic China.

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Rheneas Choi Kai-yeung, 19, is an exception. As a member of the youth division of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Choi argued that Hong Kong’s future would hardly be bright with an undemocratic sovereign state.

“China’s democratic development is highly relevant to Hong Kong, given the unchangeable fact that Hong Kong belongs to China after the handover [from British rule in 1997],” Choi said.

The alliance has been a subject of much criticism from his peers, arguing that its signature Victoria Park vigil has become “ritualistic” and failed to yield any results.

But for Choi, the June 4 commemoration is exactly what it takes for Hongkongers to stay focused in the battle against an increasingly assertive Beijing government.

“Think of how Occupy protesters were rejected by the Communist Party – that makes the Tiananmen students all the more relevant.”

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Making the vigil relevant to people of the current time, therefore, is what the alliance has hoped to do in recent years. Apart from the usual eulogies dedicated to students killed in 1989, the vigils also shed light on Occupy protests and the mainland’s crackdown of human rights lawyers.

“What’s happening on the mainland today is a story many Hongkongers don’t know,” said Chow Hang-tung, vice-chairwoman of the alliance.

“Hongkongers in the next generation should be aware of our unique position in voicing for the injustice in other parts of China. I do not subscribe to the view that China’s status has nothing to do with us. We could have been them, if our parents or grandparents did not make all their way from the mainland to Hong Kong.

“We could have been living behind the Great Firewall of the internet. Our parents could have vanished in June 4. Who knows?” Chow said.

Choi, her younger peer, has a more forward-looking approach.

“Everyone knows how difficult it is to have an authoritarian regime to be apologetic over the bloodshed and vindicate those killed in the massacre,” Choi said. “If we don’t do anything, we will never succeed. If we keep trying, who knows? Maybe we’ll succeed one day.”