More than 1,000 march in Hong Kong’s searing heat to remember June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown
Turnout estimated at 1,100 by organisers, slightly higher than last year’s tally, but police say only 610 people showed up
More than 1,000 Hongkongers took to the streets amid a record-breaking heatwave on Sunday to take their yearly stand to “resist authoritarianism” ahead of the 29th anniversary of the Chinese military’s bloody June 4 crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The turnout was estimated at 1,100 by organisers, slightly higher than last year’s tally, which had shrunk to a decade low. Police estimated 610 people showed up.
“Human rights, freedom, democracy and justice have continued to deteriorate” in mainland China, said Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, representing the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the march organiser.
“In Hong Kong, we have not yet reached the point where we have to ‘put our lives aside’. Yet under the shadow of authoritarianism, the price for saying one particular slogan is increasing.”
Even as the temperature in Wan Chai soared to 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) – the city is entering the 11th day of a record-breaking heatwave – the demonstrators marched from Southorn Playground to Beijing’s liaison office in Western district. There, they queued to place “end to one-party dictatorship” stickers outside the gated complex amid a large police presence.
The slogan was the subject of recent debates after a former Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong’s affairs suggested any mention was against the law, and those using it could risk disqualification from local elections.
But alliance chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said the group would not abandon the slogan as “only with the end of one-party rule could a democratic China be realised”.
“I don’t think there is any legal basis to what these people say, but we are willing to face whatever consequences there are,” Ho said.
Asked about the issue on Sunday, Wang Zhenmin, the liaison office’s legal chief, did not give a direct response, calling it an “old problem”, but added that anyone who broke the law had to be responsible for it.
Participants in the march called for the release of human rights activists, and accountability over Beijing’s bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy sit-in at the heart of the capital on June 4, 1989. The exact death toll may never be known, but hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000, are believed to have been killed.
Hong Kong is the only city on Chinese soil where annual commemoration of the crackdown has been tolerated. A candlelight vigil is held on the night of June 4 every year in Victoria Park.
During Sunday’s march, many chanted slogans and held up placards and signs urging the “repeal of the June 4” crackdown. Many also called for the release of detained human rights lawyers and activists, including Liu Xia, widow of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and Wang Quanzhang, who has been missing on the mainland for more than three years.
Tsoi urged participants not to forget that amid growing “authoritarianism, repression and dictatorship”, many activists had “put their lives aside” for their human rights campaigns, including the late Liu as well as Hu Shigen, Qin Yongmin, Huang Qi and others.
Sunday’s turnout was notably smaller than most pro-democracy marches in Hong Kong, with participants mostly middle-aged residents old enough to remember the 1989 events.
“Many people even asked me: ‘Oh, is the march today?’” said demonstrator Benny Mok Sin-man, 54, who has been marching in Hong Kong every year for nearly three decades.
Mok conceded that there was a sense of indifference to the goals espoused by the alliance in recent years, especially among the younger members, due mostly to the sagging pro-democracy movement after the ebbing of Hong Kong’s Occupy demonstrations, as the youth were now less interested in superficial expressions of political protest.
“The older generation will still do a lot of what young people might consider ceremonial events,” Mok said. “It’s our responsibility, and if no one is willing to do it, we will.
“I guess you could call it a division of labour. I’m happy for example that [pro-democracy party] Demosisto is going back to its civic activism roots as it will give them a more powerful voice than in the legislature.”
With her two restless daughters, Lotta, eight, and Enya, 10, in tow, Chung Yuen-yi has been marching every year for 29 consecutive years, and vowed on Sunday to continue seeking the vindication from Beijing.
“They of course want the incident to fade from everyone’s memory, but in my opinion, there is a lot of power in collective memory,” Chung said. “We saw the events unfold before our eyes, and just because there is no vindication it doesn’t mean it did not happen.”
Still, not all of the protesters were of the older generation.
“They’ve borne the burden for us for 29 years,” said Alexis Man Choi-ning, 26, who took part in the pro-democracy Occupy movement protests in 2014 and has been attending the June 4 march with her mother since she was a child.
She was further incensed by recent political events, such as the disqualification of lawmakers and aspirants from the Legislative Council.
“As long as we are around, we have the responsibility to speak out, even if it’s no longer a hot political topic, or even as the political environment” maintains a tenuous balance between pro-establishment and anti-establishment camps, she said.
Organisers estimated that 1,000 people took part in last year’s march, while police put the number lower, at 450. The latter figure would be the lowest turnout since 2008.
The marchers have dwindled since 2015, when 3,000 people took part. The turnout for the alliance’s annual evening candlelight vigil at Victoria Park on June 4 generally draws a larger turnout than the march.