What happened on the night of June 3, 1989, in Beijing and the next morning has bothered many people for 18 years. For most, it was disbelief that the central government could act in this brutal fashion towards its people. Many hope and believe that, one day, the Communist Party will reverse its position and accept that the student protesters were patriots. In the case of Ma Lik, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, it was different. He, too, wanted to reverse the verdict, but he was convinced that the popular image of what happened was wrong. Mr Ma did not deny people died that night. But he questioned that it was a massacre. He pointed out certain student leaders - Chai Ling , Feng Congde , Hou Dejian and Wuer Kaixi - were able to get away and said that if the party really intended a massacre, they could not have escaped. Mr Ma is confusing murder with massacre. If the Communist Party had simply targeted student leaders to kill, no one would call that a massacre. It would have been a case of political assassination. What made this a massacre was the widespread killing of innocent civilians, people whose only crime was to be out on the streets at that time. Actually, Mr Ma's standards for a massacre are too high. For ordinary people, the indiscriminate slaughter of a dozen or more people is enough to constitute a massacre. Thus, the Bible talks about the 'Massacre of the Innocents', King Herod's attempt to kill the baby Jesus so as to nip in the bud any talk of a newborn 'king of the Jews'. The Catholic Encyclopedia estimates that for a town the size of Bethlehem, only six to 20 babies would have been killed. So, the killing of probably no more than a dozen babies has gone down in history as a massacre. Why shouldn't the killing of hundreds of people be deemed a massacre? Mr Ma also questioned certain expressions, such as the word 'mince' used to describe people who had been run over by a tank. That was simply not possible, he said. You do not turn into mince when you are run over by a tank. 'Why don't we get a tank to run over a pig and see if it becomes mince?' he asked. This is a classic example of not seeing the woods for the trees. Mr Ma may well be right that a pig does not become mince if it is run over by a tank. But what difference does that make? This fastidiousness with details shows a lack of sensitivity and understanding of the big picture, of what happened that historic day in Beijing, when the government decided to turn against the people, and use as its instrument what it likes to call the 'people's army'. Mr Ma evidently spoke without clearing his remarks with his party. After the story broke, the party leadership held an emergency meeting the next day - after which a vice-chairman, Lau Kong-wah, labelled the chairman's remarks inappropriate, and offered an apology. But the damage has been done. The DAB will, no doubt, pay a price in the next elections. Mr Ma is a liability and the party will have to look for a replacement. This incident brings to mind a similar case in the late 1990s, after the death of Wong Man-fong, a former senior official at Xinhua news agency, then the central government's representative in Hong Kong. Wong, after his retirement, wrote a column in Ming Pao where he did not refrain from criticism of the left-wing establishment in Hong Kong. After his death, Ming Pao approached Mr Ma to take over the column. In his first column, he recounted that the newspaper had asked him to write like an 'enlightened leftist' - like Mr Wong. Mr Ma refused. He said to ask him to write in such a way was an attempt to split the left. Now Mr Ma has shown his true colours. He is not an enlightened leftist. And he has split the left. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.