HONG KONG – For years, China quashed any discussion on the mainland about its bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, almost erasing what happened from collective consciousness. Now it may be Hong Kong’s turn, as China’s ruling Communist Party drags the city more directly into its orbit.
The semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and nearby Macao were for years the last places on Chinese soil allowed to publicly mark the events of June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on protesters. led by students in a crackdown that left hundreds of, if not thousands, dead.
Before last year, tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park every year, lighting candles and singing songs in memory of the victims. But the authorities, citing the coronavirus pandemic, ban this vigil for the second year in a row. And a museum dedicated to the event suddenly closed on Wednesday, just two days before Friday’s anniversary, after authorities investigated it for not having the necessary licenses to hold a public exhibition.
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Hong Kong’s security minister warned residents last week against participating in unauthorized gatherings.
In mainland China, the younger generations have grown up with little knowledge or debate about the crackdown, but efforts to suppress commemorations in Hong Kong reflect another turn of the screw in Beijing’s ever tighter control over Hong Kong as a result. massive anti-government protests in 2019. These protests have evolved into months of sometimes violent clashes between smaller groups of protesters and the police. And they led to a broader crackdown on dissent in the former British colony, which has long been an oasis of capitalism and democracy and was promised to largely retain its freedoms for 50 years upon its return. to China in 1997.
Since the protests, China has imposed a sweeping national security law aimed in part at toughening penalties for actions by protesters, and authorities have sought to arrest nearly all of the city’s outspoken and prominent pro-democracy figures. . Most are either behind bars or have fled the city.
Despite this year’s restrictions, calls are being made for Hong Kong people to remember the 1989 crackdown in private, with vigil organizers calling on residents to light a candle on Friday at 8 p.m. no matter where they are.
Online calls circulating on social media also urged residents to dress in black on Friday. Local newspaper Ming Pao published an article last week suggesting that residents write the numbers six and four on their switches – a nod to the June 4 date – so that every press of the switch is also a act of remembrance.
For decades, Chan Kin Wing has regularly attended the vigil in Hong Kong.
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“I was fortunate enough to be born in Hong Kong. If I had been born on the mainland, I could have been one of the students in Tiananmen Square that day,” said Chan, whose parents had fled the mainland to Hong Kong in the 1960s.
“When June 4, 1989 happened, all of Hong Kong witnessed the indelible historical event of the students being slaughtered by a corrupt regime,” Chan said.
This year, Chan plans to remember the event in private, dressing in black and changing his profile picture on social media to an image of a candle lit in the dark.
“I have decided to never forget June 4 and to strive to convey memories of it so that it will never be forgotten,” he said.
In mainland China, the Tiananmen Mothers group that represents relatives of the victims published an appeal on the China Human Rights website urging the party to heed their long-standing demands for a full release of official documents on repression, compensation for those killed and injured. , and that those responsible are held to account.
“We look forward to the day when the CCP and the Chinese government can sincerely and courageously set the record straight and take their righteous responsibility for the 1989 anti-human massacre in accordance with the law and the facts,” the statement said. .
The government, however, seems determined to run out of time for such appeals.
While Tiananmen Mothers said 62 of its members have died since the group was founded in the late 1990s, many young Chinese, he said, have “grown up in a false sense of prosperous jubilation and glorification. forced government (and) have no idea or refuse to believe what happened on June 4, 1989, in the nation’s capital. “
In Hong Kong, recent arrests and convictions of prominent activists have had a chilling effect on those who have attended the vigil in the past, said Chow Hang Tung, Hong Kong Alliance vice chairman for the support of the democratic patriotic movements of China, which operates the June 4 museum.
“There will obviously be fear and people cannot just assume that they can come and express their memory of the victims of the Tiananmen massacre and be unharmed,” she said.
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Chow said what drives her forward is the dream that China and Hong Kong can have democracy one day. The tide, however, seems to be going the other way.
“It’s something worth fighting for,” she said. “If one day we can’t talk about Tiananmen, it would mean that Hong Kong is totally assimilated into Chinese society.
Associated Press video reporter Alice Fung contributed.
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