Voices from Hong Kong’s June 4 Vigil
By Alice Woodhouse and Justin Heifetz
“We don’t want to forget, we try not to forget” – vigil attendee Michael
Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown is still drawing large crowds after 22 years.
Although organisers said the numbers of young people taking part were high this year, some older people who refuse to forget the night of June 4 remained among them.
Participant Michael was living in Toronto, Canada, in 1989 and joined protests outside the Chinese embassy after watching the tanks roll towards Tiananmen Square on the television news.
He said nothing had changed since the protests 22 years ago as China is still under one party rule, adding that persistence was the most important factor in pursuing democracy in China.
“Starting from a couple of years before, Hong Kong people started bringing small kids, they want to let them know what’s happening in China,” he said. “Beijing thinks we’re a bunch of old guys so will be removed from this earth soon, but the old guys brought the next generation and they are bringing the next.”
A middle school student from Hong Kong who joined the vigil said he had learnt about June 4 through the Internet and documentaries on YouTube.
“The way I understand June 4 is that many university students at the time thought the communist party was too corrupt. So they protested in Tiananmen Square, protested and went on hunger strike,” he said. “But not only did the government not listen, they sent the army out to repress the protests. And up until today they have still not admitted they made an error.”
At the entrance to Victoria Park a handful of booths manned by pro-democracy organisations and unions handed out sprigs of jasmine flowers, sold t-shirts supporting Ai Weiwei or Liu Xiaobo and collected donations to support the event.
A female volunteer at the booth for the Hong Kong League of Social Democrats, who declined to give her name, said their stall gave out leaflets and books explaining the Tiananmen incident.
“I think for June 4, something we must focus on is why in 1989 our students and our citizens could join together to fight for democracy but now, these voices virtually don’t exist any more,” she said.
As the vigil continued, a woman passed through the crowd handing out badges bearing the phrase May 35th with a picture of a dead dear and upside down bottle of spirit, an image designed to outwit Chinese internet censors. The words for “dead deer” sound similar in Mandarin Chinese to “six-four,” or June 4, while the upside down bottle sounds like the phrase “pingfan,” or “reverse the verdict,” and the word for a common Chinese alcohol, “baijiu,” sounds like “eight-nine,” for 1989.
For more about the vigil, see our soundslides here.