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Record crowd commemorates Tiananmen Massacre at Hong Kong candlelight vigil

2019 June 4 candlelight vigil at Victoria Park. via inmediahk CC: AT-NC.

Thousands of Hong Kongers attended a candlelight vigil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre at Victoria Park on Tuesday night. This collective act of remembrance has turned into a ritual for the past 30 years, as many Hong Kongers keep honoring the spirit of China's democratization, as well as the high price some paid for it on June 4, 1989.

The Chinese government continues to claim that the democracy movement led by students in Beijing in 1989 was a riot manipulated by foreign forces. The 50 day-long peaceful protest ended with a military crackdown on June 4, 1989. According to a Chinese Red Cross estimate, 2,700 civilians were killed, but other sources point to a much higher toll. A confidential U.S government document unveiled in 2014 reported that a Chinese internal assessment estimated at least 10,454 civilians had been killed.

Within China, the June 4 incident, as it is described, has been a political taboo for 30 years. The majority of the young generation has never heard about the military crackdown, as it has not been reported on in newspapers. Similarly, online discussions about the events have been and remain censored. This year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affiliated news outlet Global Times described such censorship practice as a “political success”, as it has turned the June 4 incident into “a faded historical event rather than an actual entanglement”.

Photo from the candlelight vigil taken by Georgia Popplewell. Used with permission.

Hong Kong has been the most significant site within China in preserving the memories of June 4. The organizer of the annual candlelight vigil, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, has also established a June 4 Museum in the city in 2014.

Every year, the organizer also provides an update on the actual documentation of the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre, given that the Chinese government blocks any inquiries. The update is done by the Tiananmen Mothers — a civilian group composed of families of the victims. Despite ongoing harassment, surveillance and threats, the group has so far collectively identified and documented 202 individuals killed in the June 4 crackdown.

Members of Tiananmen Mothers vowed that they would continue seeking the truth in their video message to Hong Kong people during the candlelight vigil. image via inmediahk.net CC: AT-NC.

Former reporters and students who were in Tiananmen Square during the crackdown also shared their testimonies. During the candle night vigil, former student activist Liane Lee gave her first public testimony on stage (Chinese transcript via the Initium):

在救護站,死傷枕藉,有個大學生後頸被槍傷,傷得一片血肉模糊,全身癱瘓,但仍不停的說:「堅持到底,不要放棄。」

救傷車不停響號,穿梭往來救護站與醫院。有一架救傷車來到,在人群中,有人突然大聲說:「香港的學生上救護車。」我們愕然,我們說,我們沒事,不需要去醫院,不需要上救護車,我們會留在廣場。

第二架救護車來了,更多的人群,更大的聲音說:「香港的學生上救護車。」我們堅定不肯上車。於是,一個女醫生上前握著我的手說:「孩子,你聽我說,你要上救護車,你要離開天安門廣場,安全的回到香港,告訴全世界的人,今晚所發生的一切。告訴他們,我們的政府是如何對待人民!」

於是,我就是這樣,佔了救護車的位置,離開天安門廣場!

三十年來,我要求自己記住每一個細節,記住他們每一個人的臉容,他們的聲音,他們的汗水,他們的淚水,甚至記住他們生命最後的體溫!

但我不知道他們的名字!三十年來,他們的唯一名字,就是中國共產黨以人民的名義,以中國的名義稱他們為暴徒。

In the medical station [at Tiananmen Square], there were many dead bodies and injured people. I saw a student who was shot in his back near his neck. His body was covered with blood but he kept saying: “Carry on. Never give up.”
The ambulance kept running between the station and the hospitals. One ambulance came, someone in the crowd cried out: “Hong Kong students, get into the ambulance!” We said we are fine, we don’t need to go to the hospital, we don’t need the ambulance, we will stay on the square.”
Another ambulance came, more people yelled at us: “Hong Kong students, get into the ambulance!”. We insisted not to get on it. A female doctor came forward and grabbed my hands: “Kid, listen to me, you have to get onto the ambulance, you have to leave Tiananmen Square. Be safe back to Hong Kong, tell the world what happened here tonight. Tell them how our government treated their own people!”
That’s how I occupied a space in the ambulance and left Tiananmen Square!
For thirty years, I remind myself to remember every detail, every face, their voices, their sweat, their tears, and even their body temperature as they were passing out.
But I don’t know their names. In the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party, which says it acts in the name of the people and in the name of China, has called them only one name: thugs.

Lee Lan Ko via inmediahk.net (CC: AT – NC)

In mainland China, the official political narrative describes the June 4 military crackdown as a necessary step to preserve the One-Party system, as reflected in the Global Times’ latest commentary:

The Chinese government's control of the incident in 1989 has been a watershed marking the differences between China and former Eastern European socialist countries, including the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Since the incident, China has successfully become the world's second largest economy, with rapid improvement of people's living standards. The policy of avoiding arguing has served as a contributor to the country's economic take-off.

In such political context, the people’s memory of June 4 has become a “crime”, as depicted by lyrics of the song, Memory is a crime composed by local pop singer Anthony Wong to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre.

回憶即使有罪
真相怎麼敢無言
歷史假使有人定被發現

Even though it is a crime to remember
The truth will find its courage to be told
The history that has happened will be revealed

Anthony Wong performed on stage during the candle vigil and urged the people of Hong Kong to speak up against the amendment of the city's extradition law and to join an upcoming protest on June 9.

The spirit and the courage to remember are well preserved by the sea of candlelight. According to the organizer of the vigil, 180,000 people came to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, breaking the record set in 2014.

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