This Sunday, thousands of people are expected to gather at Victoria Park to remember the bloody crackdown on students at Tiananmen Square 28 years ago.
Over the past few years, however, the number of people attending the annual vigil appears to be thinning out.
It seems that the younger generation, in particular, are losing their passion in commemorating the June 4, 1989 event.
And this is happening as the youth’s disenchantment with the way China is exercising its sovereignty over the city grows.
Simply put, they seem not to want to have anything to do with China, a sentiment that coincides with calls for self-determination for Hong Kong.
On May 28, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China again led the annual march to commemorate the brutal suppression of the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
It was supposed to serve as a “dress rehearsal” for the June 4 mass action, and it gained added significance this year because it was meant to be a “show of force” of the pro-democracy movement before the visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of the handover on July 1.
However, the turnout for this year’s march was the lowest in almost a decade, the organizers said. Only about 1,000 people took part in the demonstration from Wan Chai to Beijing’s Liaison Office in Western District, while the police put the figure at 450.
Richard Tsoi, vice chairman of the alliance, remains hopeful that people in Hong Kong would come out in droves on June 4 to show their support for democracy.
But some observers raise doubts if this year’s vigil will be as well attended as in the past, considering that many student organizations now refuse to join the alliance to commemorate the event as they do not believe that Hong Kong citizens have the responsibility to promote China’s democracy.
Hong Kong is the only place in the People’s Republic of China where people can legally talk about the June 4 massacre.
Many Hong Kong citizens, who had watched it unfold on their TV sets at home, were deeply affected by the incident.
Many of them developed an anti-communist mindset, and assailed the top leadership of China who ordered the use of brutal force against the students.
Years passed, and China’s economy grew rapidly until it is now the world’s second biggest, and its citizens have cash to travel overseas and buy up luxury flats in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world.
Still, many people in Hong Kong believe Beijing owes the whole nation an apology for what it did in 1989.
This is the cause of the split between the pro-Beijing camp and the democrats in Hong Kong.
Democrats have pursued the fight for democracy while others, mostly businessmen, have come to embrace Beijing in the 1990s as the nation started to open itself to the world.
Beijing has been working very hard to remove the memory of June 4 from the collective memory of Hong Kong.
Still, Hong Kong citizens continued to remember June 4. And as Beijing tightened its grip on the territory, the turnout at the June 4 vigils continued to grow, partly because the organizers linked the commemorative activities to Hong Kong people’s anger at the central government’s policies in the city.
In fact, the organizers have been using the June 4 candlelight vigil to gather support for the July 1 march and whip up anti-Beijing sentiment on the SAR’s birthday every year.
It is fair to say that the majority of the people in Hong Kong still feel the pain left by the June 4 incident.
But with the rise of localism in recent years, as well as Beijing’s tightening grip after the Occupy protests of 2014, organizers have to find new ways of linking the June 4 commemorative activities to the issues confronting Hong Kong citizens, especially the younger generation to whom June 4 is but a part of China’s history.
The alliance has yet to find a new way to make the June 4 activities relevant to today’s situation.
Should it continue to link June 4 to the struggle for a democratic China or should it establish a new agenda based on the anti-Beijing sentiment among the young people of Hong Kong?
The emergence of a new generation in the past three to four years highlights the need for the alliance to change its approach.
The younger generation no longer feel any connection with the issues of their seniors. In fact, many believe that those seeking a democratic China over the past three decades have failed and should abandon their struggle.
For many Hong Kong youngsters, the struggle for a democratic China has no relevance to their own struggles.
Thus, there is now a gap between the older and younger generations of Hong Kong citizens as far as June 4 commemoration is concerned.
The youth want to take action to break the current deadlock on the political front, and that cannot be achieved just by attending annual commemorative activities where candles are lit and songs are sung.
Politicians, whether they are part of the establishment or in the opposition, should be brave enough to show their indignation over the June 4 massacre.
They don’t need to attend the vigil, but they should speak the truth.
Incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam was brave enough to share her sadness over the incident before the election, but now she refuses to make any comment about it.
Hong Kong people should continue to remember June 4, which they can use to stand up against the authorities in Beijing.
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