As Hong Kong commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, the June Fourth Incident is now in its 32nd year, and groups such as the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC) are facing increasing political and legal pressure to commemorate the event. But Hong Kong people are still paying tribute to this movement in various ways, showing the unique style of Hong Kong society. Please listen to our reporter Wang Yun’s special report.
As we enter the end of May, the heat in Hong Kong is already unbearable; the political climate is not friendly for Hong Kong people who plan to commemorate June 4 in the usual way.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC) received a ruling at noon on May 29 from the Hong Kong Government’s Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions that their appeal against the police’s decision to oppose the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil and the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil in Victoria Park was rejected.
First “June 4” under National Security Law
“We have also seen this year that the situation in Hong Kong, both in terms of the political situation and the legal development, is very risky. So this morning, our Standing Committee of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC) has already made a decision that if there is no way to conduct a legal June Fourth commemoration, we cannot force it to go ahead,” said Tsai Yiu-cheong, secretary general of the HKASPDMC, in an interview with this station that evening, saying he was not surprised by the outcome.
Although the reason for the police’s refusal was to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, by the day of May 29, the number of local cases of new coronavirus pneumonia infection in Hong Kong had cleared for 28 consecutive days. Choi Yiu-cheong said, from the low epidemic and other objective conditions, to rally is not impossible.
When he said this, he was still in the so-called “guilt by association”. The day before, a Hong Kong court ruled that Tsoi Yiu-cheong was sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended for two years, for his involvement in the “anti-China” march organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China in October 2019.
Also sentenced at the same time were Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC), and Albert Ho, vice chairman of the HKASPDMC, who were sentenced to 18 months in prison for the same reason.
Tsai Yiu-cheong hinted that both the police veto of the June 4 rally and the heavy sentencing of the Alliance’s cadres had the background of the National Security Law, “At the end of June last year, the National Security Law of Hong Kong was passed and came into effect, so the legal system of Hong Kong has changed a lot now compared to the past 30 years or so.”
The high-handed atmosphere created by the National Security Law even jeopardizes the existence of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China itself. On June 1, the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion Research (HKIPOR) released the results of its “June Fourth Anniversary Survey”, which showed that 28% of respondents thought the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China should be disbanded, up 4 percentage points from last year, and a record high since 1993; 38% thought it should not be disbanded, a record low since 1998.
“The June Fourth Memorial Hall was closed after three days of reopening
While the June 4 rally was rejected, the “June 4 Memorial Hall” hosted by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was also blocked.
On June 1, only three days after the Memorial Hall reopened, the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department came to the Memorial Hall to inform the Alliance that they had initiated enforcement procedures against the Memorial Hall for failing to apply for a public entertainment venue license. The memorial hall was forced to close temporarily. The Alliance is confident that there will be no legal problems with the contents of the Memorial Hall, but it has had to seek help with the legal process.
On top of that, the memorial may face other forms of harassment. after opening in 2012, the June 4 memorial has never been peaceful, and was forced to move from its old location in 2019 due to complaints from other owners; the memorial that settled in the new location that year was vandalized by unknown individuals before it even opened.
“The hydrochloric acid (these people) threw on our exhibits prevented us from opening the museum. This is clearly a targeted act, and that’s what we’re worried about,” Mak Hoi-wa, the director of the memorial, told this reporter on the opening day.
Because of the pressure of the political environment, the theme of this year’s exhibition at the June 4 Memorial Hall was forced to change, from the originally planned “Anti-Sending China Movement” to a photo exhibition on the theme of “The 1989 Democracy Movement and Hong Kong”.
Tsai Yiu-cheong told us that the Alliance has been under pressure from China since its inception, “For the past 30 years, Hong Kong democrats, especially the head of the Alliance, have not been allowed to go back to the mainland.” But the pressure that has built up over the years has not stopped Hong Kong people from going to Victoria Park to commemorate June 4.
The number of participants in the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil in Hong Kong was listed on a prominent panel in the June Fourth Memorial Hall, from 150,000 in the first edition in 1990, to 150,000 in 2009, after declining year by year. In 2019, the 30th Victoria Park Gala even surpassed the first one, with the number of participants reaching 180,000.
As for the Victoria Park Gala maintaining a high number of participants in recent years, Tsoi Yiu-cheong believes that this reflects the fact that a new generation of Hong Kong people have also joined the issue of supporting the vindication of June 4 for various reasons, “They may all feel that the Chinese government has a great distance from the core values of the international community in terms of democracy, freedom and human rights.”
He stressed that the Chinese government’s strong intervention in Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” has also sparked resentment among Hong Kong’s youth toward the Chinese government, who have expressed their call for democracy and autonomy through their participation in the Victoria Park rally.
Hong Kong People and June Fourth
Choi Yiu-cheong, who came from the Hong Kong school movement, has been an active participant since the first Victoria Park Gala.
“(I) still feel that with so many people dead, if we cannot continue their aspirations for democracy, we are doing a disservice to these young people who lost their lives,” said Tsoi Yiu-cheong, who, along with fellow students of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, saw on television the suppression of petitioning students by Chinese troops in Tiananmen Square from the night of June 3 to the early morning of June 4, 1989. At that time, I made a promise to myself that I would spend my life promoting democracy in China.”
Hong Kong in 1989 seemed destined to be tied to the June Fourth Movement. Soon after the start of the movement, Hong Kong society became overwhelmingly supportive of democracy in China.
“Not just the left-center-right, all classes came out, those dancers in the nightclubs, the mamas, they all came out to join the march,” Choi Wing-mei, who has worked as a journalist in Hong Kong since the 1980s, told the station. It was in this context that the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKADC) was born in May 1989.
After the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, a group of Hong Kong people, led by Szeto Wah, launched the “Yellow Bird Operation” to rescue political dissidents who were being hunted by the Chinese government to go to Hong Kong. The operation, which rescued some 800 people, did not end until the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997.
“The people of Hong Kong had a deep sense that there was hope for Hong Kong if China’s democratic transition was successful. The Chinese democracy movement broke out in 1989 when the future fate of Hong Kong was just being decided,” Choi Wing-mei said, referring to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong signed by China and Britain.
Against the backdrop of Hong Kong people’s enthusiastic support for democracy in China, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China has hosted the annual June Fourth Candlelight Vigil in Victoria Park since 1990, which has become the world’s largest memorial event for the June Fourth Incident.
The June 4 Candlelight Vigil at the Victoria Park has been rich in content, including the chanting of the list of June 4 victims, the presentation of flowers to the memorial, the showing of a film of the visits of pro-democracy activists and Tiananmen Mothers, and the singing of pro-democracy songs, including “Bloodstained Elegance” and “Wounds of History”. Also included were some of the important political issues of the past years, such as the promotion of the signing of Charter 08.
Year after year, the June 4 Vigil has become a benchmark for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
It was during his sixth grade Chinese Language class that Hong Kong young man Wu Junwei first heard about the June Fourth Incident, “That’s when I started my political enlightenment and became concerned about Chinese politics. When I went to middle school, students also began to grow up and mature, and there was a collective effort to participate in the Wei Yuan rallies.”
“The June Fourth Incident, commemorated every year, has educated generations of people, and this education has made many people who did not care about politics to care about politics, and those who care about politics will have their values changed,” said Cai Yongmei, who has been involved in the June Fourth rally for years. analysis said.
Hong Kong’s localists’ June 4 commemorative activities
The commemoration of June 4 in Hong Kong has fostered a sense of democracy and civic consciousness in Hong Kong society, and has contributed to the emergence of local political movements in Hong Kong.
On July 1, 2003, the “July 1 Demonstration” in Hong Kong raised democratic slogans against the local political system, such as “oppose Article 23 and return the political power to the people”. Not only did half a million people participate in this movement that year, but it has also become one of the most important political movements in Hong Kong.
“So it complemented each other and pushed each other higher and higher. Later on, the July 1 march in Hong Kong, you see that among its main demands, there was also a demand for democracy in mainland China. So, I think the commemoration of June 4 and the local democracy movement in Hong Kong are one and the same,” Choi Wing-mei said.
But after the rise of the “Umbrella Revolution” in 2014, which called for the direct election of Legislative Council members and the Chief Executive, there were calls for the local democracy movement to cut itself off from the Chinese democracy movement, and in 2015, the University of Hong Kong Students’ Union quit the Hong Kong Federation of Students to organize its own activities to commemorate June 4.
“There is still some kind of Greater China plot in the activities of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China that I attended. But my friends in the local faction believe that China under the Chinese Communist Party and China is still traditionally a totalitarian state, and that Hong Kong should break away from China as a unified system in order to be free. Although Wu was still participating in the June Fourth commemorative activities organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, he began to join the “local faction” in separate activities of the same nature.
During the June 4 commemorative activities of the local faction, Wu saw people burning the Chinese Communist Party’s flag. In his eyes, the activities of the local faction to commemorate June 4 were more vocal than those of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC) and more direct in condemning the tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party. However, he believes that these activities are essentially the same as those of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC), “Both are our remembrance of the pursuit of freedom, our remembrance of the martyrs, and our condemnation of the CCP’s fascist brutality, and to a considerable extent our spirit is the same.”
Although the advocacy of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and the local faction in commemorating June Fourth are each on their own, in Choi Wing-mei’s view, their actions reflect the special style of Hong Kong society, “on the one hand, there is the love for freedom, the pursuit of democracy, the revulsion and hatred for the totalitarianism; on the other hand, it is a highly mature civil society, Hong Kong people are very caring society, although usually very much focused on making money. But it is mainly a society composed of the middle class.”
According to the Hong Kong Police Force, annual public marches and rallies in Hong Kong have increased from 4,000 in 2008 to 11,000 in 2018, with an average of more than 32 per day. Hong Kong has even been described as the “protest capital”.
The “protest capital” faces high pressure
But the “protest capital” is facing increasing political pressure for the June 4 commemorations.
The pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao published an article on May 31 in which it said in a threatening tone that the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC) had violated the National Security Law and that it would die if it did not withdraw. The article refers to the “five major platforms” of the Alliance, including “releasing pro-democracy activists, vindicating the 1989 pro-democracy movement, holding the massacre accountable, ending one-party dictatorship, and building a democratic China.
These five phrases are also the slogans that appear most often at the annual June Fourth Candlelight Vigil in Wei Yuan. The Ta Kung Pao article actually implies that the future of one of the largest political gatherings in Hong Kong is not promising.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said of the Alliance’s slogan “End one-party dictatorship,” “This year is the centennial celebration of the Communist Party, and we can see that under the leadership of the Communist Party, the country has taken off in recent decades and brought a better life to the people, and it is our position to respect the ruling party of the country. “
This statement adds to the political atmosphere in Hong Kong on the eve of June 4. “In this regard we see increasing political pressure, except that up to now, the government side has not used the national security law to charge the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China and members of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China in this regard,” said a worried Choy Yiu-cheong.
At the same time, danger signs are emerging in the Hong Kong academic community regarding the study of June 4.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s China Studies Service Center, one of the world’s leading institutions for China studies, has preserved a large amount of historical material on the June Fourth Incident. But news broke late last year that the Center was facing a reorganization, with its repository to be managed by the University Library, and that Chiu Chi-yu, a special expert under China’s “Thousand Talents Program” and Dean of CUHK’s Faculty of Social Sciences, was coordinating the reorganization project. As the center has been falsely accused of “collusion with foreign powers” and “espionage center,” there is widespread concern that the reorganization will cause the center to lose its independence and cast doubt on the safety of the June Fourth historical materials it preserves.
Freedom Flowers in Prison
In the midst of the rainy environment, various commemorative activities for the June Fourth Incident are still spreading like a blaze of fire in Hong Kong.
Last year, the Hong Kong police also rejected the application of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPD) for the June 4 Victoria Park Gala on the grounds of the epidemic. However, on the night of June 4, the Alliance still broke through police obstruction and entered the Victoria Park to hold a lower-scale June 4 party. Meanwhile, people also lit candles all over Hong Kong to commemorate June 4 by candlelight all over the city.
“It may be difficult to do something collectively now, but it is possible to do some June 4 mourning actions individually. We still have confidence that Hong Kong people will not forget June 4,” said Tsoi Yiu-cheong, still looking ahead optimistically in the face of further high pressure this year.
The Tiananmen Mothers Movement, jointly promoted by several Hong Kong groups, has been distributing candles and electronic candles on the streets of Hong Kong since early May, reminding the public to light up the candles together to light up the road to democracy on June 4.
On the eve of June 4, the local non-profit organization “June 4 Stage” introduced the public to the 1989 pro-democracy movement and the June 4 incident through a live online reading. A line from their June 1 play, “Putting a Little White Flower in the Square,” expresses their wish: “If one day, a bouquet of flowers can be placed in Tiananmen Square to pay tribute to the dead, I will go to the square and put a paper kite with a little white flower painted on it.”
Lee Cheuk-yan, the chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, who is currently in prison, said to the public after being informed that the Victoria Park Gala could not be held this year, that he would light up cigarettes instead of candlelight to mourn in prison, and read aloud the manifesto and sing “Freedom Flowers”.