For the past 26 years, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China has been playing an important role in reminding Hong Kong people and the whole world of the horrific crackdown on pro-democracy students in Tianamen Square on June 4, 1989.
Every year, without fail, the group leads a vigil at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, which is attended by thousands of people, to mark the infamous event and pay tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their young lives for the sake of democracy in China.
Aside from seeking justice for the victims of the crackdown, the Alliance also wants to end the one-party dictatorship and build a democratic China.
But now the Alliance is facing a new challenge from the younger generation who want to distance themselves from mainland affairs and focus on the future of Hong Kong.
This growing attitude among the youth is fueling a debate on whether Hong Kong people should play a role in the democratic development of China.
According to a public opinion poll by the University of Hong Kong, more young people are calling for the disbandment of the Alliance, giving rise to the view that youngsters in the city nowadays have a “Hong Kong mindset”.
The poll revealed that 26 percent of the respondents think that the Alliance should be disbanded, up 8 percentage points from last year, while 38 percent are not in favor of such a move, down 6 percentage points.
The latest popularity rating of the Alliance is 44.6 marks, a record low since the poll was first conducted in 1992.
Analyzing the results, the HKU Public Opinion Program said the Alliance appears to be facing an ageing image problem, as the younger generation apparently could not recognize the need to focus on China to fight for democracy.
However, a deeper analysis shows that the younger the respondents, the more they tend to blame the Chinese government for the crackdown, the more they support the Beijing students, and the more they demand for a correction of the official stand on the June 4 incident.
That indicates that the younger generation is still very sympathetic to the pro-democracy student movement back in 1989.
That indicates a sort of ambivalence among the young people of Hong Kong about the June 4 crackdown. Yes, they still have deep feelings about it, and they condemn the Chinese authorities for not improving the human rights situation in the country, but they also believe Hong Kong people should fight for their own roadmap to democracy rather than just follow the Beijing-designed electoral framework.
This Thursday, the spotlight will be on the attendance of young people in the vigil to commemorate the event. It has been reported that several youth groups will not join the Victoria Park assembly to register their opposition to the Alliance vision of “building a democratic China”.
Student leaders from the University of Hong Kong will host a vigil with a “local focus” at the school campus in a bid to stress the importance of shaping Hong Kong’s own fate rather than pushing for changes in China.
But the youngsters shouldn’t deny that the June 4 massacre was a tipping point in the Hong Kong people’s quest for its own political roadmap.
The 1989 incident has fostered a strong anti-Communist feeling among Hong Kong people.
And following the 1997 handover, many Hong Kong people remained suspicious of the “one country, two systems” pledge of Beijing. Thousands of Hong Kong people migrated to other countries to avoid the Communist Party rule.
But what has the Alliance done for the nearly two decades that Beijing has ruled the territory? Has it done anything significant towards building a “democratic China”? Sadly, not much.
Under the strong leadership of Xi Jinping, there is no room for activists inside and outside China to challenge the Communist Party rule. Instead, repression of dissent has worsened. Authorities have targeted not only the pro-democracy activists but also their relatives and friends.
And with the increasing exchanges between Hong Kong and mainland China in the past decades, the June 4 vigil has become a mere tourist event with Chinese visitors joining it to be able to do something they could not do back home.
In that way, probably the efforts of the Alliance are not totally wasted. Those Chinese tourists are learning more about their history, particularly those chapters that Beijing authorities would rather sweep under the rag.
And when they go back to the mainland, they will tell their friends and families about the experiences and knowledge they gained in Hong Kong. That’s what the Alliance has done to “build a democratic China”.
The establishment of a June 4 museum in 2014 is also a significant milestone for the Alliance in its long-term struggle to promote democracy on the mainland. Sadly, the group is facing growing pressure from owners of the building hosting the museum who insist that the permanent exhibition is violating the designated function of the building.
While the efforts of the Alliance in the past 26 years are commendable, its leaders should start to acknowledge Hong Kong’s changing political landscape.
The older generation continues to harbor a sense of “nationalism” while mourning for the victims of the crackdown. But today’s youth could have an entirely different feeling about it.
Those born after 1989 could only think that were it not for the Communist Party dictatorship, such gross human rights violations would not have taken place, and instead of seeking changes in China, they want their city to have nothing to do with Beijing.
That being the case, the Alliance should shift their focus from the establishment of a democratic China to the struggle for Hong Kong democracy. Only in that way could they remain relevant to the younger generation.
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