Tiananmen Square crackdown

WATCH: Club 71's Grace Ma on 1989, 2003 and what the bar means to her

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 June, 2015, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 June, 2015, 8:19pm

What happened in and around Tiananmen Square 26 years ago still affects Grace Ma Lai-wah, the owner of Central bar Club 71. Her eyes start to well up as she thinks back at what happened.

Watch: Club 71 - a place to remember

“I was too tired, I couldn’t sleep. When they announced martial law I couldn’t sleep,” she recalls. “My [now ex-] husband told me they opened fire; I couldn’t believe it. I think at the time I was so traumatised I went numb. I only remember going to work, getting off work. I didn’t look at the news. I just did what I could. Everyone needs to do their work.”

In response to the crackdown, on September 2, 1989, her then husband and a few others opened Club 64 just off of Lan Kwai Fong that became a salon for journalists, legislators like Leung Kwok-hung, and famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Since Ma worked as a medical secretary in Central, she would help out after work. While the bar’s name was a way for people to remember June 4 every day, it was too much for her to bear.

Ma later became a co-owner of the bar. When it changed hands, she moved on and opened a place off Hollywood Road which she named Club 71, after the massive July 1 protest in 2003 by Hongkongers against legislating to implement Basic Law Article 23 on national security, in which over half a million people came out in the streets.

“After it was renamed 7-1 [July 1], I felt much better, happier. I said to people half in jest that not having the name Club 64 made me the happiest,” she says.

Nevertheless, some décor still alludes to June 4; the ceiling has a mural of a blue sky and clouds, some of which look like the Goddess of Democracy statue.

She says the bar, with its eclectic décor and political undertones, is a gathering place for people of various backgrounds and professions to meet, and some groups, such as professors from the University of Hong Kong, continue to congregate there once a week more than a quarter of a century later.

On June 4, as it does every year, Club 71 will open around 10pm after the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, and a box will be set up for patrons to donate money, with part of the proceeds going to the Tiananmen Mothers group.