June 4 vigil in Hong Kong

June 4 Tiananmen anniversary vigil in Hong Kong: despite student snub, attendance higher than last year, with 115,000 present according to organisers

The figure is up on the 110,000 organisers claimed attended last year. Police gave the 2017 figure at 18,000

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 6:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 8:28am

More than 100,000 people have gathered in Victoria Park in Hong Kong to mark the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, according to the organisers of the annual candlelight vigil.

The vigil is the only large-scale public gathering in China to remember the events of June 4, 1989, that brought an abrupt end to a pro-democracy movement in the heart of Beijing. Many activists, including students and civilians, died and the exact death toll may never be known.

While large crowds are still drawn to the event in Hong Kong, attendance has dwindled in recent years. Organisers are estimating a turnout of 100,000 to 150,000 this time, despite a boycott by university student unions for the fourth year in a row.

12am: More speeches, and a march

Jaco Chow Nok-hang, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, called on Hongkongers to care about dissidents on the mainland as the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong promote "cross-border integration".

Delivering a statement on behalf of the six political groups behind the march, in front of the liaison office at midnight, Chow said: "If a regime could deploy armies against its people in the capital city, what would it dare not to do? Those who think they can stay away and safe, they are simply dreaming.

"The integration of Hong Kong and the mainland means people on both sides will share the same fate and the same pursuit for democracy.”

After the speech, it started to rain as the groups held a moment of silence for late activists Liu Xiaobo and Li Wangyang. Following the silent moment, protesters walked past the pedestrian lane in front of the office, under police instruction, some tossing white ghost money into the air.

The rally ended in peace at about 12.30am on Tuesday, after protesters burned some ghost money, which billowed smoke in the rain.

10.05pm: Post-vigil march

Six political and activist groups – the Labour Party; People Power; the League of Social Democrats; Socialist Action; and tertiary student groups Student Fight For Democracy and Student Labour Action Coalition will soon gather at the Causeway Bay exit of Victoria Park for an annual march to Beijing’s liaison office in Western District. Their march is expected to take about two hours.

9.55pm: Vigil ends

In his closing remarks, the alliance’s secretary Lee Cheuk-yan said: “Next year will be the 30th anniversary, let’s work together and spread our message to communities, schools and every corner of the city.”

Currently, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China is organising an exhibition on the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Shek Kip Mei until June 10.

Referring to the exhibition, Lee said: “Our goal is to establish a permanent June 4 Museum before the 30th anniversary.”

Lee also urged people to join the alliance’s activity remembering the first anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death on July 13, and calling for the release of the late dissident’s widow Liu Xia.

“Let’s support the release of Liu Xia ... End one-party dictatorship,” he chanted.

The vigil ends with the singing of For Freedom.

9.35pm: Call to “end one-party dictatorship” crucial for democracy

Reading the event’s manifesto, Chow Hang-tung, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said the call to “end the one-party dictatorship” was crucial for democracy.

“Democracy, this humble and fundamental demand, reverberated in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 29 years ago ... This demand blossomed under the yellow umbrellas four years ago, and many people in China supported Hong Kong people on the streets,” she said.

Chow added that democracy was also essential to “Charter 08”, a document co-signed by Liu Xiaobo which called for democracy and constitutional reform in China.

“If one-party dictatorship continues, China will not have real democracy, Hong Kong will not have real freedom. To end this cycle, one-party dictatorship must end,” she said.

“Release the dissidents! Vindicate the 1989 pro-democracy movement! Demand accountability for the June 4 massacre! End one-party dictatorship! Build a democratic China!” leaders of the alliance chanted, as Chow added that these were not slogans, but “promises to those killed 29 years ago, promises to Liu Xiaobo, who devoted his life to democracy, and promises to those who made sacrifices for democracy in China and Hong Kong”.

They then burned the books of condolences to remember the victims once again.

9.21pm: Tributes paid to Liu Xiaobo

The alliance paid tribute to late dissident Liu Xiaobo with a four-minute music video entitled “The Sea”, which showed empty chairs in different corners of Hong Kong. It was a reminder of the empty chair that stood in the imprisoned dissident’s place in Oslo when he was prevented from collecting his Nobel Peace Prize in person in 2010.

It was followed by a singing of Democracy will Return Triumphantly.

9.12pm: Boy band performs and missing lawyer’s wife delivers message

Boy band Boyz Reborn perform The Song of Freedom to remember the crackdown, including the lyrics “when your voice has disappeared ... The singing of the song of freedom has to be continued by me.”

Then, a video message of Li Wenzu, wife of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, was played.

Li urged Beijing to reveal her husband’s whereabouts and release him. Wang is a lawyer who represented activists and disappeared in a 2015 police sweep. He has been charged with “subversion of state power”, and is the last person in the so-called 709 crackdown to remain in legal limbo and no trial date has been set for him.

“In just one more month, my husband Wang Quanzhang will have been disappeared for three years ... Wang is the only one left about whom there has been no information, not even whether he is alive or dead,” Li said.

“I want the lawyer I have appointed to meet with Wang so I can know of his situation. I am determined and confident I will be able to persevere until Quanzhang is free to come home, until the day when human rights in China are thoroughly transformed for the better!” she said.

Li also thanked the Hong Kong people for remembering June 4, which she described as “a day of disaster for the People’s Republic of China”.

“I thank you as well for your relentless concern for the victims of the 709 crackdown,” she added.

9pm: ‘Significance of vigil is to pass on memories to next generation’

After singing another vigil staple, The Flowers of Freedom, pro-democracy Occupy Central co-founder Dr Chan Kin-man, a sociologist at Chinese University, hosted a dialogue with Tse Tsun-yin, a member of young political activists’ group Left 21, and Baptist University student Wong Nga-man.

Tse said the significance of the vigil was to pass on the memory of the crackdown to the next generation.

“It is a struggle of memory against forgetting ... whether the vigil is ritualistic or not depends on our attitude,” he said.

He said an undemocratic China meant the city had no ways to pursue its democratic development, responding to those who argued Hongkongers should focus more on the city not the country.

Addressing some localists’ argument that the vigil would only strengthen the national identity, Chan said: “I hope students who want to promote localist awareness would still uphold the intrinsic values of human beings.”

8.50pm: Vigil is ‘encouraging for mainland Chinese’

In another video message, US-based democracy activist Wu Renhua, who witnessed the June 4 crackdown, said the candlelight vigil “is encouraging for mainland Chinese people”.

Wu said that since 1989, he had been collecting information on the crackdown.

“It has been difficult to research ... but we must record such a massacre, including information about the victims and culprits,” he said.

As the crowd joined the organisers in singing the anthem of the annual vigil Bloodstained Glory, the MC announced that all six football pitches in Victoria Park had been filled by participants.

8.36pm: Pre-recorded video address from Tiananmen Mothers group

After a minute’s silence for the victims, a pre-recorded video address of Di Mengqi was played.

Di, a 72-year-old member of the Tiananmen Mothers group, was the mother of Wang Hongqi, a 19-year-old man who was shot dead on his way home from work when the crackdown started on June 3, 1989.

Who did my son offend on his way home from work? Shot dead for no reason!
Di Mengqi, Tiananmen Mothers

Di demanded accountability for the killings.

“As a mother, I hope the state can step forward to clarify its stance on the massacre ... Who did my son offend on his way home from work? Shot dead for no reason! How can I swallow this!

“It was a criminal act by the state. We demand that the truth of the June 4 tragedy be revealed, compensation be paid to the victims’ families and legal accountability for those responsible for the massacre! We want our dignity back as human beings!” she said.

Di also thanked Hong Kong people for their support.

“Thanks to all who are at the vigil for your respect for life, you love for peace, and your belief against all kinds of killings,” she said.

8.30pm: Former lawmaker Albert Ho says ‘ruthless regime will not last forever’

“The wounds have not healed, the blood has not dried ... and justice has not been upheld,” Albert Ho said, adding that authoritarian rulers wanted to erase the memory from the people.

“But more importantly, we are convinced that the ruthless regime will not last forever but will inevitably fall!” the chairman of the organiser said, to a round of applause.

“Despite a white terror falling over the land, the strong will of the people has remained indomitable and resistance has never ceased.

“In this evening’s vigil, we do not only participate in a ceremony, or cherish a feeling, but also reiterate our promise, perseverance and commitment to pass on [the victims’] unfulfilled dreams.”

The candlelight was not just to light up people’s conscience but also to radiate the truth of the crackdown, he added.

8.25pm: Flowers laid on replica of Beijing monument

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China’s leaders, including chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, carry a wreath from the stage to a replica of Tiananmen Square’s Monument to the People’s Heroes, set up about 100 metres away from the stage.

They then led the crowd in bowing three times to the monument.

In the torch-lighting ceremony, Albert Ho and two young members of the alliance carried a burning torch from the monument to light up another larger torch on the stage.

8.10pm: Vigil starts

The vigil starts with a four-minute video entitled “Hong Kong people’s June 4”, explaining the background of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, how it started in April and ended with a military crackdown in June. It also explained how China had remained undemocratic, despite economic progress throughout the 1990s.

Attendees stood with their candles aloft, forming the iconic scene of “the candle sea”.

As the rain has stopped, many people continue to enter the park, filling the sixth and last pitch as the ground dries.

8.05pm: Vigil about to start as crowd chant ‘end the dictatorship’

Thousands of people have now gathered at Victoria Park and many have lit their candles already. The MCs have said the vigil is going to start in 10 minutes. About 15 minutes earlier, they led the crowd to chant the slogan “end the dictatorship” twice.

The slogan courted controversy earlier this year after Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, warned those who chant “end the one-party dictatorship” risk being disqualified from public office in the future.

7.59pm: ‘Missing’ bookseller joins vigil

Lam Wing-kee, one of the Hong Kong booksellers who went missing in 2015, and eventually turned up in custody in mainland China, is at Victoria Park.

“It appears there are fewer people joining the vigil this year. I understand that some of them are frustrated, as they see no direction on how to proceed ahead,” Lam said.

“But we have to realise that only by understanding what’s going on in China – and why the dictatorship has remained in China for years – will we finally see the future direction.

“We would be fooling ourselves that we could cut ties with China.

“China is not only affecting Hong Kong and Taiwan but also the world. By reading more books on history, we would understand more and eventually forge a way out.”

7.30pm: Prepared for rain

More than a thousand people have filled the first football pitch and the crowd begins to spill over onto the second pitch. Many came prepared for the rain, bringing raincoats, small stools and plastic sheets to cover the wet floor.

Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok is attending the vigil as he has done over the past years.

“I come every year as long as I am in town. It is an unfinished responsibility for myself,” Ma said.

The associate professor noted a sagging interest in the vigil and even politics among students.

Regarding those who said Hongkongers should better focus on the democracy movement in the city rather than mainland China, he said the two goals were not exclusive at all.

“If you cannot even afford one single night per year, how can you fight for democracy in the city?” he said.

Imprisoned in Beijing

Activist Zhang Fuying, 55, came all the way from his home in Liaoning province in northeastern China to participate in the vigil.

“I was imprisoned in Beijing in 2009 when I initiated an activity commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. Since then, I have been imprisoned four times over different human rights movements.

“My wife is still in prison in Henan province as she fought against the government’s forced demolition of her home. She has been locked up since March 7. This is a brutal government with citizens living without freedom. But, someone has to stand up – if no one resists, all Chinese people will be locked up without freedom.

“I have come to Hong Kong every year since 2016. This would be unimaginable in mainland China as the soccer pitches would be filled with guards and policemen.

6.30pm: People get ready as the rain falls

It started to rain as hundreds of people entered Victoria Park via the entrances near Causeway Bay and Tin Hau MTR stations. The crowd scattered on two football pitches closest to the stage, with most people opening umbrellas or putting on ponchos.

One of them is Simon Choi, a 37-year-old sales and marketing professional who came with his wife and two daughters, aged six and three.

“I told my [elder] daughter that some very unpleasant things happened 29 years ago to some students advocating for a less corrupted government … I feel responsible, as a father, to tell my children what happened. I worry that she won’t be taught about this part of history in school,” Choi said.

On the stage, banners saying “Mourning June Fourth, Resist Authoritarianism” have been put up, while the organisers’ band has been rehearsing the pro-democracy songs that will be sung tonight.

5.30pm: Pro-Beijing groups accuse organisers of ‘scamming public’

A dozen protesters from two pro-Beijing groups set up outside Tin Hau MTR station to protest against the vigil.

The groups accused the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China of using the vigil to “scam” the public for money and said there was never a “massacre at Tiananmen Square”.

Voice of Loving Hong Kong convenor, Patrick Ko Tat-pun, said there was no transparency in the way the alliance used the donated funds.

“All the way [into the Victoria Park] they are asking for donations and they don’t say how they use the money,” Ko said.

One female onlooker said the groups were defaming the pro-democracy camp, to which a pro-Beijing group member said: “You’re not Chinese, don’t speak Chinese, shut up!”

‘Young are frustrated’

A 32-year-old attendee, Kevin Cheng, said young people could feel “frustrated” in the light of the recent incidents, such as the rulings in the Mong Kok riot case.

Cheng is physically disabled and works as a photographer.

“The past method of protesting was to attend rallies and go home, but now, the younger generation’s way to protest is to take action,” he said.

5pm: Organiser says ‘we must be fearless’

At a seminar organised in Victoria Park, the secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Lee Cheuk-yan vowed to continue his calls for an end to one-party dictatorship in mainland China, despite the risk it poses to his potential bid for a Legco seat.

The alliance, which organises gatherings – including the June 4 vigil – has called for the release of dissidents and the “end of one-party dictatorship”.

“Resist authoritarianism” will be a key slogan at this year’s vigil, during which they will also pay tribute to dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in July last year.

Hong Kong pro-establishment politicians and former Beijing officials had earlier suggested those calling for an end to one-party rule could risk disqualification when running for election, after constitutional changes in mainland China affirmed the ruling Communist Party’s leadership.

“The so called red line is set to make us fearful. To fight against it we must be fearless,” Lee said. “The most important thing is that we do not uphold any self-censorship.

“It is my lifelong commitment to fight for justice and the labour movement. Election is our only means and we would not sacrifice our principles for it.”

Regarding young people’s fading interest in the vigil, Lee said the largest challenge was the cynicism and indifference towards society not whether the youth join the vigil or not.

The Hongkongers refusing to let memories of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown die

“Authoritarianism is coming to Hong Kong to suppress our freedom. We have to fight back,” he said.

Raphael Wong Ho-ming, 29, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, reminded young Hongkongers they were still related to the victims of the crackdown.

“We live under the same authoritarian regime, no matter 29 years ago or the present,” he said.

The alliance’s vice-chairman Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said: “The vigil with tens of thousands of people holding candles is the largest pressure exerted on Beijing. We should not belittle ourselves,” Tsoi said.