Hong Kong student groups snub candlelight vigil to remember bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, saying there is no moral duty to attend
Hongkongers aren’t responsible for fighting for end of one-party rule and democracy in mainland China, student union leaders argue
Hongkongers do not have a moral duty to attend the annual vigil at Victoria Park commemorating the June 4 crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, according to local student union groups.
The goals espoused by the organiser, the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – of helping to spur democratic development in mainland China and ending one-party rule – are no longer the city’s responsibility, they argue.
This view was put forth on Monday, 29 years to the day after the violent suppression of pro-democracy activists in the nation’s capital, even as the US issued a statement urging the international community to press Beijing to “make a full public accounting” of those killed during the incident.
“Putting an end to one-party dictatorship and building a democratic China are no longer what we’re all calling for today,” said Davin Kenneth Wong, president of the University of Hong Kong Student Union, which represents 16,000 students at the city’s oldest university.
Speaking on a radio programme on Monday, Wong said Hongkongers had a different cultural identity from people on the mainland.
“We need to preserve the truth about June 4 … but identity recognition is more important. This is about responsibility, and responsibility is derived from identity. As Hongkongers, do we have a responsibility to build a democratic China? This is a question we must ask.”
William Chan Wai-lam, external vice-president of the Chinese University Student Union, said its members had reservations about the alliance’s agenda and did not share the same feelings of mourning.
“They say that we should attend because of our identity as Chinese, and that is our moral duty,” he said on the same radio show.
“If we consider ourselves Chinese people, then we will have to do something no matter what, because this is our own country, and these are your countrymen.
“But if we consider ourselves Hongkongers, then it’s different. June 4 has a special place, but we won’t commemorate it from the standpoint of a people supporting its own.”
Chan said there were more things that deserved public attention, such as the recent revisions to Chinese history in the school curriculum, which will no longer mention contentious issues such as the June 4 crackdown or the 1967 anti-colonial riots.
The HKU union will instead commemorate the event on campus with the ritual June 4 cleaning of the “Pillar of Shame” sculpture and a repainting of the slogans on the pavement of Swire Bridge.
CUHK’s union will be handing out fliers in Causeway Bay.
Alliance secretary Lee Cheuk-yan said he understood there were different perceptions of identity, especially since his generation grew up with an impoverished China, while younger Hongkongers were raised facing an increasingly rich and powerful one, meddling in the city’s affairs.
“Every day, they see a belligerent China clamping down on … our universal suffrage and increasing its control,” he said, arguing however that this was all the more reason to fight to end one-party rule.
“[Young people] are infuriated. But my hope is that they channel this fury into resistance – be it as Hongkongers, Chinese, the most important [thing] is to resist.”
Lee said the June 4 incident was becoming a blur among the city’s youth, and mainland students who came to Hong Kong might not even know about it.
“Whether to go to the vigil is really up to the individual Hongkonger, but the vigil, each candle held, embodies power. Each attendee wants to show the Communist Party and the world that Hongkongers will continue to hold them to account for this massacre on June 4,” he said.
Baptist University student Wong Nga-man agreed and said young Hongkongers should help continue such “resistance”.
“Fighting for democracy and freedom should not be constrained by identity,” she said. “As for why people don’t care about other things, you can’t put the blame on June 4.”
The Hong Kong Federation of Students said its unions would not host any separate public events on Monday due to a “shortage of manpower”, although they would still echo the 1989 student movement’s calls for democracy.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement: “We join others in the international community in urging the Chinese government to make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; to release those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”
“The United States views the protection of human rights as a fundamental duty of all countries, and we urge the Chinese government to respect the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens.”