Remembering Tiananmen in Hong Kong: An increasingly risky act of resistance

A Hongkonger's t-shirt on June 4, 2021.
A Hongkonger's t-shirt on June 4, 2021. The slogan reads: "People won't forget." Image: Oiwan Lam/Global Voices

By Oiwan Lam in Hong Kong

Hong Kong police on June 4 deployed 7000 officers in Victoria Park and across the city to ensure that there was no organised commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre in public spaces.

At 7.40 am, four police officers arrested democracy activist Chow Hang-tung outside her office building to prevent her from heading to Victoria Park. There have been no reports indicating that she has been released.

Hong Kong held candlelight vigils to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre for three decades.

In 2020, Hong Kong police banned the event for the first time, citing anti-coronavirus measures. Victoria Park is the park where the vigils were held.

Chow is the vice-president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HK Alliance), the group that organised the annual vigil.

She told press that she would go to Victoria Park on her own and light a candle on June 4, despite the threat of jail time for “inciting illegal assembly”.

24 activists charged
At least 24 pro-democracy activists were charged with participating in last year’s unauthorised vigil, of whom four have been sentenced to jail terms up to 10 months.

The others are awaiting trials and sentencing.

Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee warned that under the Public Order Ordinance, offenders could face up to five years in prison for attending the vigil, or up to one year for promoting it.

After the vigil was banned, Beijing’s political adviser on Hong Kong affairs Tian Feilong urged Hong Kong security services to investigate HK Alliance for breaching the infamous national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year.

He argued that the organisation’s mission statement, which calls for the end of one-party dictatorship, is in violation of the law, since the Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorship is written into the Chinese constitution.

On June 3, Executive Council member Ronny Tong warned that people wearing black clothing and chanting slogans such as “end one-party dictatorship” could be prosecuted for violating either that law or the law against unauthorised assembly.

It would not matter if protesters appeared in different parts of the city, as long as their actions could be viewed as coordinated, Tong said.

He did however state that individual commemorations of the anniversary were not forbidden.

Safe spaces targeted, shut down
As police mobilised across the city to prevent potential demonstrations, law enforcement units and pro-Beijing groups harassed the public in order to prevent them from attending other potential commemoration activities – even those being held in private venues.

Seven Catholic churches which planned to hold evening mass on June 4 became a focal point for attacks:

On June 2, HK Alliance announced that its June 4 Museum had been shut down after officials from the Food and Environmental Hygiene department accused it of operating as a place of public entertainment without required licences.

In spite of all the legal threats, individuals are finding their own ways to commemorate the anniversary in public.

On June 3, a group of artists put on a public art performance at Causeway Bay:

A number of individuals went to Victoria Park to hold “one person vigils”:

A large number of June 4 posters were seen in different districts across the city today.

June 4 posters in Hong Kong
A large number of June 4 posters were seen in different districts across the city today. Image: Stand News/Global Voices

Many citizens wore clothes that conveyed political messages. They said on social media that they planned to light candles at 8 p.m, regardless of where they were in the city.

Oiwan Lam is Global Voices northeast Asia regional editor. She is also a media activist, researcher and educator currently based in Hong Kong. Her Chinese writings are in and her twitter account is @oiwan. This article is republished from Global Voices under a Creative Commons licence.

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