25 August 2019
A three-day exhibition on Deng Xiaoping opened in Hong Kong as China commemorates the 110th birth anniversary of its former paramount leader. Photo: HKEJ
A three-day exhibition on Deng Xiaoping opened in Hong Kong as China commemorates the 110th birth anniversary of its former paramount leader. Photo: HKEJ

Deng Xiaoping exhibition sidesteps Tiananmen incident

Hong Kong saw a major exhibition open Thursday to commemorate the life and times of Deng Xiaoping, China’s former paramount leader who steered the country into the economic reforms path. 

Featuring more than 400 photographs as well as personal memorabilia, the exhibition was organized by some Chinese Communist Party and government entities and a Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing newspaper. 

The three-day event came as Friday marks the 110th birth anniversary of Deng, who led China from 1978 to 1992 at a critical time after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976.

The photos try to capture important moments in Deng’s life and his stewardship of China, but barely touch up on the controversial June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Beijing.

In fact, even in the few photos — taken on June 9, 1989, five days after the Tiananmen crackdown — that relate to the subject, observers noted mis-captioning and efforts to downplay the incident.

For one photo, the English caption read: “Deng delivers a speech to officers with a rank of general or above in command of the troops enforcing martial law in Beijing”. The Chinese caption, meanwhile, just said that Deng was dealing with “political disturbance at home and abroad”. 

The pictures marked the first time that Deng showed up in public up after the crackdown on student protesters.

The exhibition featured some more pictures taken in 1989, but they were more about Deng asking the party to deal with the corruption problem.

Deng is believed to have been the one who gave the go-ahead to the army and tanks to clear the Tiananmen Square of protesters. Estimates of the death toll in the crackdown range from a few hundred to a few thousand.

Some sections in the exhibition seek to tell the story of Deng’s work for Hong Kong, as he was the one who formulated the “one country two systems” principle. There are also pictures capturing his meetings with officials such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Hong Kong colonial governor Murray MacLehose.

Overall, the photo captions echo the official line of the central government, emphasizing that “patriotism” and “stability” are the key components of “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong”. A video clip showed at the exhibition points out that having a People’s Liberation Army unit in Hong Kong helps protect the city from potential threats and chaos.

Ming Pao Daily quoted former Zhuhai mayor Liang Guangdai as saying that the June 4 incident is not embarrassing and people should not avoid it.

The exhibition opened to the public at 11 am Thursday. Tung Chee-hwa, vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Council, and two daughters of Deng Xiaoping — Deng Rong and Deng Lin — attended the opening ceremony, besides a host of Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

The exhibition comprises seven parts, starting from the May Fourth Movement — an anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement that grew out of student demonstrations in Beijing on May 4, 1919 – and covering various aspects of Deng’s life ranging from his military experience, family life and senior years.

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