The annual vigil remembers the Chinese government's brutal and bloody crackdown on nearly two months of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. Soldiers clearing the square at the time shot and killed hundreds of Chinese on June 4, 1989.
The Tiananmen Square protests remain a taboo subject in mainland China, and the government's Internet censors routinely remove references to the movement online.
Between 54,000 and 150,000 people turned out for this year's vigil, hosted by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, an advocacy group that promotes a democratic China which has organized the event since 1990.
But the lead-up to the commemoration was shadowed by a debate about its theme “Love the country. Love the people. Hong Kong Spirit”, seen by some as too pro-Chinese nationalism. Some Hong Kong “localists”, who believe that Hong Kong should cut political ties with mainland China in order to preserve its own autonomy, even advocated for a boycott of the vigil, prompting the alliance to withdraw the slogan.
The move led to another round of criticism. For example, user “Wing” wrote on inmediahk.net, a citizen media platform that [zh] the denial of “patriotic expression” on June 4th is a betrayal of the Hong Kong people's collective experience in struggling against the one party regime of mainland China.
Regardless, many were left feeling hopeful after the vigil. Fung Ka Keung, a volunteer for the event, wrote [zh] on his Facebook page about what he witnessed:
Today, I was standing near the fountain entrance. At first people were walking into the park on the sideway and the police had to block the car way occasionally to let people passed. So many people kept coming and the police had to block the road next to the park. All the football fields were filled with people. I witnessed this again.
Suddenly, the heavy rain started and people were soaked. Some people left the park from Sugar Street to seek refuge from the rain. However, in about half an hour, people returned to the park and the football fields were once again filled. The police asked us to direct people to the areas of open grass. The whole Gloucester Road was filled up with people who were heading towards those areas. Even though the weather was really bad and the sound system was not functioning, people were waiting patiently without any complaints.
This was a most touching and exciting day. Although we are facing such a big challenge, Hong Kong people are still clinging to the victims of the June 4 massacre. The conscience of the Hong Kong people lives forever.
Alexander Yan recited a lyric of a protest song [zh], the “Flower of Freedom”, which could be heard in almost every corner of the park:
“H4 Ruby” wrote [zh] on inmediahk.net soon after he returned home and made a date with his friends to return the same day next year:
今年的六四晚會，很特別。 […] 相信在場人士也不會忘記那場雨。「無論雨怎麼打，自由仍是會開花」這一句唱得特別投入﹑特別激昂﹑特別應景。因為我們都明白「遇強愈強」的道理：只要我們仍堅信自己的信念，知道要捍衛真相，無論天氣如何惡劣﹑政治的局面如何險要也好，在這段路上也不應動搖。可能我只懂唸口號，唱歌還要看著歌詞。但我仍然堅持唸著守候著，是因為我知道在二十四年前，有一群與我年紀相約的學生，勇於的站出來。我做的雖然微不足道，但我仍希望由衷地表達心中的敬意和謝意。即使我不是在二十四年前的現場，但面對對今天道德﹑是非顛倒的社會，我只想以一點燭光表達不平則鳴。即使我不是在二十四年前的現場，但我也明白到作為父母親看著坦克下的孩子，那種無奈﹑心痛的感覺。雖然事隔廿四年，但感受仍是這樣的接近。[…] 明年今天，再次約會。
The June 4 vigil this year is very special. […] For those who were there, they will never forget the rain. When we sang “No matter how the rain falls, freedom will bloom”, we sang with all heart and emotion. We understand that when facing a strong enemy, we have to be stronger: We have to stay firm in our belief that to defend the truth, no matter how horrible the weather and how threatening the political situation, we should not falter on our path. Maybe all I know is how to shout out slogans, I can't even remember the lyrics [of the protest songs], but I will make sure to shout out and be present because I know that 24 years ago, some students who were at my age courageously took a stand. What I am doing is so little, yet it is a sincere expression of my respect and gratitude to them. Although I was not there 24 years ago, today I face a demoralizing society where right and wrong have been twisted, I express my solidarity through candlelight. Although I was not there 24 years ago, I can understand the pain and frustration of the parents whose children were crushed by tanks. Twenty-four years have passed, the feeling is still there. […] See you next year, same day.