Newspaper headlines are illuminating. Apple Daily ran a front-page story with a headline saying the number of people who want a vindication of the Tiananmen protest crushed on June 4, 1989, had reached a new high. Ming Pao's headline, referring to a recent survey, read: 'Opposition to reversing the official stand on June 4 reaches new post-handover high.' Wen Wei Po's story highlighted a finding from the same survey, conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, showing more Hong Kong people than previously believe they have a responsibility to promote the mainland's economic development. The South China Morning Post's story, meanwhile, carried the headline: 'More people believe rights record improving.' Some newspapers decided not to report the results of the annual survey of views on the Tiananmen protest and China's development - a marked change from when the poll was first conducted 14 years ago. The findings were mixed, and at times self-contradictory - and the way the media handled them speaks volumes about people's changing feelings of the tragic events 17 years ago today. While the majority remain convinced the Communist Party-led government is on the wrong side of history in its handling of the student-led uproar, June 4 has different meanings for different people. Most who take a pragmatic viewpoint have consigned the 1989 demonstration to history. They prefer leaving it to future generations to handle the aftermath of the tragedy when more details of the decisions leading up to the events of that night may come to light. But a significant number are adamant the June 4 crackdown is as relevant as it was 17 years ago, when student demonstrations in Beijing against maladministration and corruption ignited demonstrations across the nation. They make no bones about asserting that the mainland government has been moving in the right direction towards reform and openness since 1989, despite disturbing violations of civil rights and countercurrents against reform. To them, June 4 represents not just a wound - in history and in people's hearts - to be healed. The path the communist government takes and the attitude it adopts in handling the past have significant implications for the nation's future. Great nations know how to face and transcend the past, and to reflect on, correct and learn from mistakes to ensure they are not made again. Seventeen years on, the balance sheet of China's development is largely positive. The past decade has seen the phenomenal growth of the mainland economy. With its economic and political might growing, China has established a secure place in the international arena. The success of the Bank of China's initial public offering last week was a vote of confidence in the country's banking giant and in economic development as a whole. However, it is disconcerting to see the increasing contradictions arising from the mismatch between the rapid growth of the economy and slow pace of reform of economic, social and political institutions. These have been highlighted through incidents such as the clash between villagers and police in Taishi, Guangzhou, over alleged embezzlement by its village chief, and controversies over curbs on freedom of expression and the press. The treatment of The Straits Times' China correspondent Ching Cheong - who has been detained on allegations of spying for more than a year without trial - makes a mockery of the mainland's rules on lawful detention. It does not bolster confidence in the protection of civil rights, as guaranteed by the constitution. It is incidents like these that remind the people of Hong Kong of the enormity and complexities of the problems and challenges facing the whole nation. As passions over the student-led movement have cooled off and realism has prevailed, fewer people now expect radical change towards an open, free and democratic society on the mainland in the near future. Yet the sea of candlelight at Victoria Park tonight will symbolise conviction and commitment, and a feeling of hope that June 4 will go down in history as a landmark in the nation's path towards modernisation.