Tiananmen Massacre vigils are banned in Hong Kong, though memorials persist across the world

An empty Victoria Park in Hong Kong on 4 June 2022. Image via inmediahk's Facebook (Creative Commons: Attributive, Non-commercial)

June 4 marked the 33rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. It was also the third night without keeping vigil in Hong Kong, breaking the longstanding tradition of honoring those who fell in the 1989 tragedy. 

On June 2, 48 hours ahead of the annual commemoration day, the Hong Kong police force warned Hongkongers against inciting or participating in unauthorized assembly at or near Victoria Park on June 4.  It stressed that even if a person were alone and did not physically appear at the park, he or she could still be interpreted as taking part in illegal assembly and face a maximum of five-year term of imprisonment.

Suppression of June 4 memory

Reuter correspondent James Pomfret showed what the park looked like on June 4:

Former Apple Daily News columnist Jack Hazlewood, compared the park's view on June 4 in 2019 and 2022:

Since 1990, Hong Kong has held an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate and condemn the bloody crackdown of 1989 pro-democracy student protests in Beijing. This ended in 2020 as the city government banned the annual ritual, citing pandemic control measures. But some defied the ban and brought their own candles to the park, leading to the arrest of more than 24 prominent activists, who were accused of inciting, organizing, and participating in an illegal assembly. 

In 2021, the vigil was banned again for the same reason. The police sealed off the park, but some citizens insisted on wearing black and lighting candles on the outskirts of the park.

Three months later, in September, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HK Alliance), the host of the three-decades-long June 4 vigil, announced its disbandment after its leaders Lee Cheuk-Yan, Albert Ho, and Chow Hang-Tung were charged with “incitement to subversion”, and media outlets were forbidden to report on the committal proceedings of the trial due to reporting restrictions under the National Security Law.

In addition, all major monuments in the city that reminded Hongkongers of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre were demolished in 2021, including the Pillar of Shame at the Hong Kong University, the Goddess of Democracy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and the Tiananmen Massacre Relief at the Lingnan University. 

This year, the Hong Kong Police Force extended the interpretation of unauthorized assembly as people sharing a common purpose, regardless of the size of the public gatherings and participants’ whereabouts.

Mini-acts of remembering

Despite heavy police presence around Victoria Park, decentralized acts of public commemoration were still visible.

Avery Ng, former chairperson of the pro-democracy political party League of Social Democrats (LSD), who was convicted of participating in unauthorized assembly and freshly released from a 14-month jail sentence, posted his fellow party members’ public act of commemoration at Causeway Bay:

Keep on doing the right thing.

Thanks to the current pandemic control measures, any public gathering with more than four people can be subjected to a fine of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars per person [approximately 640 United States dollars]. The organizer of the gathering can be subjected to a maximum penalty of a HK $25,000 fine [about US $3,200] and a six-month jail time. Most people acted alone or in a small group. However, signs that may suggest a “common purpose” of the June 4 unauthorized assembly, like words on a T-shirt, a flower, or a car plate, were hence subjected to harassment:

Near Victoria Park, a group of police officers stopped a private vehicle with a car plate that reminded people of June 4, 1989:

Reportedly, six individuals were arrested on charges that included inciting and participating in unauthorized assembly, possession of offensive weapons, and obstructing a police officer.

As there is little space left for public commemoration, many lit their candles at home and posted on social media instead. Signs were everywhere:

A number of foreign consulates joined Hongkongers’ commemoration acts with window-side candlelight:

The Polish Consulate General's post about its country's candle production capacity won a round of applause on Facebook:

Candlelight around the world

While the vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park has vanished, other candlelight vigils have spread, with more than two dozen cities around the world holding commemoration activities.

In the Chinese speaking world, Taipei has stepped into Hong Kong's role in preserving the history of the Tiananmen Massacre:

In London, the commemorative event took place outside the Chinese embassy:

Meanwhile, the diaspora Hongkonger group Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong projected images of the bloody crackdown on London Bridge:

Despite efforts to quell commemoration, the world remembers.

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