28 October 2016
A candlelight vigil was held on the University of Hong Kong campus on June 4 last year. Photo: HKEJ
A candlelight vigil was held on the University of Hong Kong campus on June 4 last year. Photo: HKEJ

Should Hongkongers commemorate the June 4 massacre?

The rise of localism among the younger generation has led to a debate about whether Hongkongers should maintain their annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the June 4, 1989, massacre of protesters in Beijing.

For 26 years in a row, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers sat in Victoria Park to remember modern China’s darkest day, shouting slogans like “Build a democratic China” and “End one-party rule”.

Now young Hongkongers are asking: “What have you achieved after shouting slogans in the park for more than two decades?”

The youngsters are taking a step forward by encouraging Hongkongers to think beyond the June 4 massacre and to show concern about the future of Hong Kong, especially when Beijing’s commitment to 50 years of the status quo expires in 2047.

It’s urgent for Hongkongers to fight for their own future, rather than be concerned about political reform in the mainland.

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong University Students’ Union called a news conference to introduce their activities for this year to commemorate the June 4 massacre.

The HKUSU has quit the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which has also decided not to take part in the annual candlelight vigil organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

This is the first year there will be no official HKFS representatives at the event.

Instead, various universities will host their own commemorative events that night.

However, Althea Suen Hiu-nam, who chairs the HKUSU, said that, from the younger generation’s perspective, there is no meaning in commemorating the 1989 massacre.

Suen said the June 4 commemoration may be dropped from the agenda of the students’ unions at universities in the next one or two years.

Hong Kong students will shift their focus to Hong Kong issues and the future, she said.

“There is no progress for us in commemorating June 4, so it’s quite natural not to focus on this, or at least not to bear such a responsibility,” Suen told the news conference.

On a radio show earlier Tuesday, Suen and Lee Cheuk-Yan, secretary of the alliance, debated the necessity of commemorating the June 4 case.

Suen insisted that there should be an end to holding the vigil every year with the same ceremony and program at the same place, but she doesn’t mean that no commemoration should be held.

She said there is no need for candlelight to remember the victims of the massacre.

One minute’s silence is enough, Suen said.

The memorial sit-in at Victoria Park on the night of June 4 in the past 26 years has been a highlight of the “one country, two systems” principle, since Hong Kong is the only place in China that can legally organise such an event. 

The images of the annual candlelight vigil represent Hongkongers’ anger at the Communist Party for killing student protesters, Lee said. 

However, Suen doubted whether the photos have any impact on Beijing.

The different viewpoints on the June 4 commemoration demonstrate the generation gap between Hongkongers born in the 1990s and the older generation of social activists born in the 1950s.

The youngsters are willing to abandon the historical baggage of June 4, cutting the link between democratic development in mainland China and in Hong Kong.

They say Hongkongers shouldn’t just sit in Victoria Park, bow to the memorial tower and shout slogans, all the while waiting for Beijing to grant democracy to us.

They would like to go deeper, to discuss what they can do to push forward the democratic development of Hong Kong and what Hongkongers can achieve under Beijing’s tough rule.

Of course, there is no problem in the younger generation shaking off the burden of history and focusing on fighting for the future of Hong Kong, but what Suen and others of the younger generation say regarding the June 4 commemorative campaign shows their ignorance of local history and their misunderstanding of localism.

Localism doesn’t mean neglecting the historical events that brought Hong Kong from a small village to a global financial city while the people roared against rule by the Communist Party.

In fact, young Hongkongers should pay more attention to the Tiananmen Square student movement in the spring of 1989 and how it is linked to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

The youngsters shouldn’t neglect the fact that Hong Kong’s current political landscape, split between the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camp, originated in the June 4 massacre.

The massacre ended the dream that Hongkongers had for life under China after the 1997 handover.

The pro-democracy camp won the support of Hongkongers and won numerous seats in the Legislative Council elections in the 1990s in a reflection of the anger and fear the people of Hong Kong felt toward the Communists who would rule them after 1997.

It may be correct that pro-democracy politicians shouldn’t have linked their political interests to the June 4 massacre in the past couple of decades.

But the fact is that all Hongkongers, no matter whether they are pro-democracy or pro-Beijing or politically neutral, should respect the victims that were killed on the night of June 4 by the People’s Liberation Army.

It’s a tragedy for all Chinese.

The correct understanding of June 4 has nothing to do with localism.

Hongkongers should at least accept the fact that the June 4 massacre did affect the city’s political landscape in the post-handover era.

The younger generation should respect the history of Hong Kong’s democratic development, and they have no right to ignore it.

If they try to ignore the footprints of the veteran democrats, they are no different from Beijing’s top leaders, who try their best to escape the responsibility for the massacre and consign the incident to the trashcan of history.

The youngsters just want to leapfrog the democratic movement of the past three decades and jump to the final act: fighting for Hong Kong’s independence.

It’s a dangerous move and won’t secure the support of most people in Hong Kong.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter