Politics has always aroused less interest among the general population in Hong Kong than the economy. The exception is the Tiananmen Square crackdown - remembered every year with tens of thousands of candles that illuminate Victoria Park in an expression of unfulfilled dreams. This is because the Tiananmen ideals of democracy, freedom and a corruption-free China are core values shared by Hongkongers. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen found that out to his cost this month in the Legislative Council when he asked people to forget their painful memories and focus on China's economic gains. Twenty years after People's Liberation Army tanks crushed students and workers in Beijing on June 4, 1989, the Tiananmen issue can make or break politicians in Hong Kong. 'June 4 has always been, and will remain, a test of political standards in Hong Kong,' said Szeto Wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. 'It is about whether people can tell justice from evil.' Mr Tsang suggested people should make an 'objective assessment' of June 4 in light of the mainland's economic development in the past two decades, which had also benefited Hong Kong - and claimed to speak for the public. He was quickly forced to apologise. He was not the first politician in post-handover Hong Kong to get a whipping when arousing emotions linked to the Tiananmen incident, nor will he be the last. Amid the uncertainties of Hong Kong's future in the years following the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing created unprecedented unity across the political spectrum. The Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, an activist, said as well as having their 'collective conscience awakened by June 4', people's sense of self-preservation surged to new heights because Tiananmen confirmed long-standing fears about the Communist Party. 'The Tiananmen massacre made people realise at the time that 'today's China is tomorrow's Hong Kong',' said Mr Chu, who supported the pro-democracy movement following the crackdown. He said 1989 was a watershed for Hongkongers, making them realise the future of the city was closely linked to democracy on the mainland. 'From then on, patriotism burned like fire here in Hong Kong and we started seeing truly who we are - that the same Chinese blood is flowing in our veins, too.' But in the following decade this surge of patriotic feelings became a point of conflict between leftists, who returned to toe the Beijing line, and liberal politicians led by Mr Szeto and Martin Lee Chu-ming. Amid the rush for foreign passports, the chaotic post-1989 political scene resulted in measures by the colonial government to maintain people's confidence - not least the introduction of direct Legco elections in 1991 and 1995. But the landslide victory by the United Democrats - the Democratic Party's predecessor - deepened Beijing's conviction that Hong Kong could be a base of subversion if democratic changes went unchecked. In response to governor Chris Patten's reforms, Beijing created the provisional legislature which, in effect, ousted pan-democratic politicians for two years after the handover. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University, said the handover was a watershed for pro-Beijing forces and the start of a swing in public opinion as more people, driven by growing nationalism, felt the need to improve relations with the central government. Coupled with the change in the electoral system, where parties could no longer rely on a simple majority to win a seat in the legislature, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong gradually consolidated its influence. Meanwhile, the Democrats found it increasingly difficult to win just by flying the white-dove party standard, and rifts appeared in the pro-democracy camp, with some questioning the hard-line stance against Beijing. But Mr Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party, denies it has ever flinched from its platform, which includes seeking Beijing's reversal of its June 4 verdict. 'Our hard-core supporters will never doubt our resolve to seek vindication for the 1989 pro-democracy movement - because that was what people in Hong Kong want,' he said. Deep-seated suspicions of Beijing's threat to freedom and human rights in Hong Kong, and public dissent against the city's government, reached boiling point on July 1, 2003, when more than half a million protesters marched to demand the withdrawal of a national security bill. And, again, the Tiananmen crackdown was an issue. Shocked by the reaction of Hongkongers to June 4, Beijing created Article 23 requiring the city's government to legislate against acts of subversion. Two of the series of demonstrations in 1989 - first to support Beijing students, then to condemn the crackdown - were joined by over 1 million protesters. Despite repeated attempts by some to get society to 'look forward', any assumption that growing national pride has muddled people's memories about June 4 remains wishful thinking. As early as 1999, a call by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa - demanding the Democrats 'drop their baggage' of June 4 and stop hosting the annual candle-light vigil, in exchange for improved relations with Beijing - caused an uproar. So when will the 'baggage' of Tiananmen be untangled from Hong Kong politics, as the city struggles toward universal suffrage? 'Until the June 4 pro-democracy movement is vindicated, and unless the ideals of a democratic China held by the students are fulfilled, June 4 candles will continue to light up Hong Kong, year after year,' Mr Szeto said.