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An exhibit from the now closed June 4 museum. A virtual museum dedicated to the Tiananmen Square crackdown launched on Wednesday. Photo: Edmond So

Virtual Tiananmen Square museum crowdfunded by Hong Kong vigil organiser launches

  • Online “8964 Museum” opens to public two months after physical exhibition in Hong Kong was forced to close over licensing row
  • Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China says it farmed out creation of new virtual museum to overseas group after risk assessment
A virtual museum featuring a detailed history and rare artefacts of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown launched on Wednesday, two months after a physical exhibition dedicated to the subject in Hong Kong was forced to close over a licensing row.
The “8964 Museum” was crowdfunded by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organises the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the bloody crackdown and formerly operated the local June 4 museum.

The group, however, decided months ago after a political risk assessment to completely delegate the creation of the virtual museum to a team of researchers outside Hong Kong led by the Germany-based Chinese writer Chang Ping.

“Hongkongers and the Chinese diaspora over the past years have kept the memories of the 1989 movement in Beijing at heart. We hope this piece of history can be passed on to the next generation with the help of the online museum,” said Leung Kam-wai, the spokesman for the alliance.

Tiananmen vigil organisers close June 4 museum after government launches probe

Leung noted that the server hosting the website was located outside Hong Kong.

The alliance – which calls for an end to “one-party dictatorship” in mainland China – has come under increasing political pressure since Beijing imposed the national security law on the city in June last year.
For the second year running, local authorities banned its annual vigil citing public health concerns, prompting the alliance to accuse it of using the Covid-19 pandemic to “suppress” residents’ rights.

The alliance’s June 4 museum in Mong Kok was also forced to close ahead of the anniversary after the government launched an investigation into it following a complaint. The group was eventually fined HK$8,000 (US$1,025) for operating the exhibition without a proper licence.

A screenshot of a virtual exhibit from the new 8964 Museum. Photo: Handout

The HK$1.7 million online project, which was paid for by 1,186 people who made donations between June and August last year, was advised by an academic panel comprising scholars who specialise in Chinese social movements. They included sinologist Perry Link, of the University of California, Riverside, and Jean-Philippe Béja, of the Centre for International Studies and Research at Sciences Po, in Paris.

The online museum offers a timeline of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement in Beijing, including the subsequent crackdown and its aftermath. It also provides a list of those killed, injured and forced to go into exile.

The website dedicates a chapter to Hong Kong’s role in backing the student movement and later commemorating the crackdown over the past three decades.

Artefacts collected by the alliance over the years, such as bullets fired during the crackdown, eyeglasses worn by victims and banners carried in the square, are also showcased.

Tiananmen vigil organisers accuse officials of using pandemic as excuse to ban June 4 event

Chang, the chief curator of the online museum, said the biggest difficulties his team faced stemmed from Hong Kong’s political environment in the post-national security law era.

“What Hong Kong is experiencing today is actually the continuation of the Tiananmen crackdown. We are saddened by the pressure, torture and pain that the Hong Kong alliance and the courageous protesters have gone though,” Chang told the Post.

“But that also makes us believe in the museum’s value even more – it is not only documenting the struggle, it is a struggle itself.”

Chang called the virtual project a “mobile monument” and a “living history museum” that illustrated not only the events of the 1989 Beijing movement, but also its impact on the world.

Tiananmen vigil group fined for operating June 4 museum without licence

Leung, of the alliance, admitted he was not optimistic about the prospect of reopening the physical museum in Hong Kong, saying it was unlikely the government would grant them a licence.

“We are still in talks with lawyers,” he said.

As part of its precautionary measures, the alliance recently cut back its core leadership to just seven people and dismissed all of its staff.

Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan and vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, meanwhile, are both currently serving jail sentences stemming from the 2019 anti-government protests. Chow Hang-tung, another vice-chairwoman, is also in jail awaiting trial for allegedly inciting people to take part in the banned candlelight vigil this year.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tiananmen Square ‘8964 Museum’ launches online