28 October 2016
Organizers of the June 4 vigil must channel the political energy from the annual event into a powerful social force. Photo: AFP
Organizers of the June 4 vigil must channel the political energy from the annual event into a powerful social force. Photo: AFP

June 4 commemoration: The way forward

Despite a boycott by student unions, the June 4 candlelight vigil at Victoria Park drew some 120,000 participants this year, with people continuing the annual tradition of paying tribute to the victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

The main slogans at this year’s event were roughly the same as those seen in the past 27 years: pushing for vindication of the student protests that took place in Beijing, and democratization of the mainland.

I believe it is entirely up to our citizens to decide whether to attend any commemoration event on June 4, and which one to attend.

As far as the candlelight vigil at Victoria Park, which is organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements (the “Alliance”), is concerned, I believe most of those who attend the event on a regular basis don’t actually share much in the theme of building a democratic China — the theme that has been preached by the Alliance for a quarter century.

Nor do they have high hopes for the Alliance’s repeated call on Beijing to stop its crackdown on dissent. Some perhaps don’t even agree that June 4 commemoration activities should be cast in any patriotic light at all.

Instead, the vast majority of those who came to the candlelight vigil were just motivated by a simple and righteous indignation at a crime against humanity committed by a totalitarian regime 27 years ago.

Some may probably ask: there have been so many crimes against humanity and humanitarian crises throughout the modern history of mankind, so what makes the June 4 incident so special? Why do the people of Hong Kong feel particularly attached to the incident?

Well the answer is indeed simple and clear: because right from the beginning of that pro-democracy movement in April 1989 till its tragic end on the night of June 4 in the same year, people from basically all walks of life in our city rallied wholeheartedly to the support of mainland students who gathered at the Tiananmen Square fighting for social justice and democracy.

When the movement was eventually crushed by the regime with guns and tanks, the people of Hong Kong were shocked, outraged and frustrated just like their counterparts in the mainland.

In other words, the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in the summer of 1989 which ended in bloodshed captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation in Hong Kong and imbued the people with social and political awareness.

Simply put, Hong Kong was never the same again after the June 4 incident. The pain resulting from that massacre lingers on even to this day, hence our emotional attachment to the movement.

In fact, contrary to the findings of some of the opinion polls conducted by the so-called “indigenous faction”, which said the people of Hong Kong no longer find June 4 relevant, a recent study done by the University of Hong Kong shortly before June 4 this year suggested otherwise.

According to its results, the majority of the people in Hong Kong have not forgotten the June 4 incident at all.

Among them, 60 percent of respondents seek vindication for the June 4 victims. And in the age group of 18 to 29, which is supposedly the most anti-China and pro-nativism, those who are for vindication even hit 78 percent, the highest among all age groups. Also, 51 percent say both the Alliance and the candlelight vigil should continue.

In other words, the Tiananmen incident is hardly forgotten among mainstream society in Hong Kong. The majority of the citizens are still very much concerned about June 4, unlike what some members of the indigenous faction have claimed.

Given that, I believe if the indigenous faction and young social activists arising from the Occupy Movement really want to push for change and make a difference, they must make sure they gain the support of those who are still very much sympathetic toward the June 4 victims and their families, because such people account for the majority of our society and represent the general opinion.

However, as the rise of nativism in Hong Kong is unstoppable, and it has become increasingly popular among our young people, it would be difficult for the Alliance not to be drawn to the nativist theme if they want to have the continued support of our young people.

I would say it is inevitable for the Alliance to incorporate more indigenous elements into the Victoria Park event going forward.

As Edward Leung Tin-kei of the group Hong Kong Indigenous put it, there is a lot of political energy within the June 4 event that is waiting to be tapped. The most important task before us is how to transform this energy into a powerful social force against tyranny.

The words need to be taken seriously as organizers think about the way forward for the June 4 commemoration effort.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 8.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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