It’s going to take a lot to change the political trajectory of Hong Kong these days. The city we all love is now hopelessly gagged and stifled by tycoon special interests, and poisoned from within by the toxic and self-serving Chinese Communist Party under the guise of the Liaison Office.

Uniting as a whole to create a better vision for the future is a noble goal, but in these disparate times there are many complicated impediments to such unity. Not least, the Party, which works tirelessly behind the scenes to sow division and inflame societies’ contradictions. In the Communist playbook, this is go-to Rule Number One: foster internal contradictions between ordinary people so they cannot become organised and direct their frustrations at the predatory one-party dictatorship.

tiananmen june 4 vigil
Photo: HKFP.

Many who have tirelessly supported the annual June 4th commemorations in the City see shadows of an insidious Communist Party plot when they hear that most young and localist-favouring groups no longer want to participate in the Victoria Park vigil. For them, the breakaway of the influential youth demographic is a sign that the CCP’s campaign to destroy the democratic movement in Hong Kong is working.

Their mantra goes: together we are stronger. June 4th is a time to unite and remind the world once again of the cruelty and barbarity of the Party. The problem is, the Victoria Park vigil has lost its power to do this. The world no longer cares about June 4th 1989 as much as we’d like to believe. Ask any business man whether it matters if 90,000 or 180,000 turn out for the vigil and they’ll nonchalantly shrug the whole affair off as irrelevant for doing business with China.

The vigil certainly has deep and honourable roots, and there are certainly many such historical commemorations that go on all over the world to remind us of the sacrifices of those that have gone before. But what the youth of Hong Kong want today is political change in Hong Kong via direct pressure. To paraphrase the indomitable Twitterer, Hong Kong Hermit, kids these days aren’t concerned about commemorating history but are instead actively trying to prevent it happening again.

June 4 Vigil
An observer at a previous June 4 vigil. Photo: HKFP.

These groups now believe that managed, predictable protests have no power for change and have been rendered toothless. They are co-opted, either directly or indirectly, by the Party. Rather than annually highlighting the CCP’s barbarity, they actually work to give it global credibility. Or, One Country Two Systems must be still working if the Party still allows Hong Kongers the freedom to sit in the park and light candles for the fallen of Tiananmen.

This is the lie that those not wishing to attend the Victoria Park vigil no longer want to support. One Country Two Systems is not working as it should. Everywhere in the city, freedoms are being curbed and stifled. Democracy protests are tolerated so long as they are controlled and manipulated by the government and swamped by battalions of police. The regime can now happily tolerate hundreds of thousands of protesters gathering in the park, so long as they act predictably, chant slogans, light candles and then disperse in an orderly way.

lee bo protest localist hk not china
Localist protests attract a bigger police response. Photo: HKFP.

Authoritarian check box 101; proudly show off to the world that people in Hong Kong are free to express themselves politically, but most of all ensure that nothing ever changes!  Fortunately, the story this year is not how many will turn up but the fact that many groups will not attend. And if they don’t go to the park, where will they go? What will they do and what will they say?

This year’s protest is quickly shaping up to becoming a control nightmare for CY Leung’s regime, which has gambled its credibility and his reelection on control. Many of those who will no longer attend Victoria Park know that they don’t need 180,000 people to make political waves and grab headlines, they can do it with just a fraction of that.  Freeing themselves from the choreographed theatrics of Victoria Park gives them, if they so choose, the power to grab the media’s attention and make June 4th newsworthy once again.

But most importantly they can frame it in the context of Hong Kong’s current struggle for self determination against a Chinese regime that is still rooted in 1989. Surely, if Tiananmen stands for anything, it is to release society from the shackles of the past and forge a brighter future, despite the ever-present threats of violence from the Party.

The assembly Hong Kong after Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The assembly Hong Kong after Tiananmen Square crackdown. Photo: 1989年的傳真.

In this regard, the new wave of students and political groups surely carry the brightest flame for real change in their total disregard for the old ways, and new-found energy to rewrite the rules of protest and sow the seeds of fear and uncertainty in the ruling classes.

This morphing of the protest scene in Hong Kong doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to Victoria Park and light a candle for the fallen this year. In fact your presence is needed more this week than it ever was. Protest numbers still count, but they don’t all have to be in the same place, doing the same thing. Why light a candle in the park when you can start a fire of revolution right across the city?

Richard Scotford

Richard Scotford

Richard is a freelance writer and long term resident of Hong Kong. He has a Master's Degree in Chinese Studies from CUHK and describes himself as a noisy muser on all things China. He has travelled extensively in Western China and once owned a trekking lodge high on the Tibetan border. He has a raw style of Opinion Journalism, with special interests in the South China Seas and deciphering Hong Kong's Localist/Independence groups.