Hong Kong’s young pro-democracy activists have differing views about the annual June 4 vigil to commemorate the victims of Beijing’s Tiananmen massacre in 1989.
While some of them would rather emphasize local issues instead, others also care about democracy in mainland China.
Ernie Chow Shue-fung (周竪峰), president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s student union, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal he has been a supporter of localism since the Umbrella Movement in late 2014.
Chow said he was inspired to take part in social movements when he was first taken to the June 4 candlelight vigil by a teacher in high school.
He said he was impressed by the vigil at the time and felt emotional amid the masses of Hongkongers holding candles and singing songs.
It led him to search for information about the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.
“At the time, I felt I had no reason not to attend the vigil, as I thought, ‘I am a Chinese’,” Chow said.
However, he said, he found that what took place at the vigils in the following two or three years was very much the same and did not give rise to any new thoughts.
Although he started to feel that the vigil organized each year by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was only selling sadness, he still attended it, thinking he should do so as a Chinese.
In June 2014, he attended the vigil for the last time.
Chow said he had an identity shift after the Umbrella Movement and he thinks of himself no longer as a Chinese but as a Hongkonger.
Inspired by localism, he started to feel that building a democratic China should not be part of the political agenda of Hong Kong.
“At least, we do not have any obligation to achieve that,” he said.
Chow said anyone who does not identify himself or herself as a Chinese will think that the annual vigil at Victoria Park has been hijacked by the alliance, which insists on labeling it as a patriotic event.
Themes like the fight against national education, as well as the Occupy movement and the Mong Kok clashes should be the main focuses of Hong Kong, he said, not June 4.
Meanwhile, alliance vice president Tonyee Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤) has a different take on the vigil that her group organizes.
Tonyee said she was only four years old when the Tiananmen Square protests happened.
National identity should not be a barrier preventing Hongkongers from caring about the world’s problems, she said.
Thinking in a nationalist way, like the mainland authorities, is dangerous, she said.
Tonyee said it has been a long time since many Hongkongers started preferring not to call themselves Chinese.
When she was studying in England, most of the students there from Hong Kong tended to call themselves Hongkongers.
Tonyee said the discussion about the national identity of Hongkongers has not matured since the Umbrella Movement.
In any case, she said, a person’s sense of identity should not have much effect on his or her participation in political activity.
She said the alliance’s call to “rehabilitate June 4” has nothing to do with the national identity of those who take part in the vigil.
Tonyee said those who think democracy in China has no relation to Hong Kong are just fooling themselves.
Although localists like to refer to China as a neighboring country, she said, Beijing is still undermining the freedom and rights of the people of Hong Kong.
The best strategy for Hongkongers is to jointly fight for democracy with the mainland’s people, Tonyee said.
She pointed out that human rights activists in China don’t focus on patriotism and nationalism.
June 4 is still a key element of the identity of Hongkongers and should not be forgotten, she said.
Translation by Chloe Chow
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