HONG KONG: Hong Kong will hold a candlelight vigil to mark the 24th anniversary of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square Tuesday, with organisers expecting 150,000 people as the southern Chinese city bristles over the issue of mainland interference.
Hong Kong is the only city in China to openly mark the anniversary of an incident that has largely been expunged from official Chinese history, and the event is a chance for residents to call for justice for the dead.
But as a sea of people floods the city’s Victoria Park it is also an opportunity for locals to show their unhappiness over what many see as Chinese interference in the city’s affairs, amid fears they could lose freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
Organisers said they expected 150,000 people to attend the event, which marks the June 4, 1989, military intervention in Beijing that ended weeks of nationwide democracy protests, with at least hundreds of people killed.
“I think all of us, even the new generation in Hong Kong, would have the same feeling that it is a tragedy and also an offence of the government to shoot people like that,” said Richard Choi, the vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
“The problem is still not resolved, that’s why Hong Kong people have the same feelings and the same demands as they did 24 years ago.”
He said “the way the Chinese authorities interfere with Hong Kong matters” would definitely help push up numbers.
An official Chinese Communist Party verdict after the Tiananmen protests branded the movement a “counter-revolutionary rebellion”, and each year Beijing pushes to prevent commemorations, while cracking down on Internet discussions.
But pro-democracy advocates in the southern Chinese city have constantly sought ways to remind locals and mainland Chinese visitors of what happened.
More than a thousand protesters walked to the city’s government headquarters and then to the Chinese liaison office in late May to call for the vindication of those who died in the June 4 crackdown.
A large tank made with white cardboard emblazoned with slogans “Never forget June 4” and “One party rule, politics murders people”, was recently pictured in the busy shopping district of Mong Kok.
And local students also staged a three-day hunger strike in an upmarket shopping district popular with mainland Chinese tourists, re-enacting events of 24 years ago when student leaders in Beijing demanded to talk to political leaders.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 as a semi-autonomous territory with its own mini-constitution that guarantees basic rights and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Beijing has irked locals, for example by pushing a national education law, which appeared aimed at bolstering patriotism, and there is a sense that the city is becoming more like the mainland, with complaints of heavy-handed police during some demonstrations.
The vigil organisers also raised eyebrows with the first part of their slogan for the vigil: “Love the country, love the people; That’s the Hong Kong spirit.”
But Choi said it was not about imposing ideas, and that the emphasis would be on the second part of the slogan: “Rectify the June 4th verdict; We’ll never Give Up.”
Organisers said 180,000 people participated in last year’s candlelight vigil, while police put the figure at 85,000, with rows and rows of people sitting peacefully during the event.
A survey of a thousand people conducted by the Hong Kong University last month found 68 percent thought the Chinese government acted wrongly in 1989, while the same number believed the city should incite the development of democracy in China.