My Take

Annual June 4 vigil now seen as a reminder of what it means to be Chinese

Commemoration of the 1989 crackdown used to be a taboo subject but the powers-that-be now realise it’s preferable to alienation from the motherland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 12:49am

June 4 used to be a taboo subject for our chief executives. Now, even Leung Chun-ying says young people should care about it. How times have changed.

Tung Chee-hwa used to tell Hong Kong people they should drop the “historical baggage” inherited from the brutal crackdown in 1989. His successor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, avoided the subject like the plague.

But when asked to comment about the annual commemoration, Leung said locals and mainlanders were “connected by blood” and the city should care about “major incidents” in the country.

This year, the controversy was the boycotting of the event in Victoria Park by the Federation of Students and all the university student unions, most of which have started agitating for the city’s independence.

Sea of candles in Hong Kong at June 4 vigil despite boycott calls

The editorial board of Shue Yan University’s student union went so far as to call the June 4 organisers brothel keepers: “The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China has become pimps and bawds in a brothel after they themselves were raped.

“Its task is to lure young girls to be tainted, before submitting them to the gangs and bandits.”

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was an editorial from a mainland state-run news outlet written by a resurrected Maoist Red Guard.

People may not forget June 4, but Hong Kong political divide is there for all to see

The alliance, once branded subversive, suddenly doesn’t look so bad to Beijing, at least when compared with the localist fringe and those who advocate Hong Kong independence. Officials tasked to deal with Hong Kong had always had a grudging respect for the late Szeto Wah, a co-founder of the alliance. He and his group might have advocated democracy in China, but they considered themselves patriotic Chinese and tacitly acknowledged there was only “one China” and that the central government was its legitimate representative.

Far better to have young people join the June 4 event once a year and make them feel Chinese, patriotic and connected to the motherland than having them agitating for independence.

In the past decade, more and more people identify themselves as Hong Kong-Chinese, in that order. Some just call themselves Hongkongers, especially young people. This is the demographic behind the localist movement, which feels no identification with the rest of China.

June 4 may be a small price to pay to get young people interested in being Chinese again.