On that balmy afternoon of June 3, 1989, I cycled for kilometres from my university to Tiananmen Square. People’s Liberation Army troops in trucks and tanks were pushing their way into the centre of Beijing, but blocked by unarmed students and civilians.

I had a dagger in my pocket — I was willing to fight the troops and die for democracy. In my mind’s eye was a romantic heroic epic with a happy ending: a Utopia of love and peace where everyone is equal and free, like our tent city in the square, or our role model, America.

Back then, if millions of protesters in China and Hong Kong, and I, a 20-year-old freshman, were able to look ahead to this year, we would have felt utterly confused and helpless.

China, the U.S. and the rest of the world, have turned worse. Instead of China becoming more like America, America has become more like China.

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Photo: Rose Tang.

Trump is not only a game changer for US and world politics, but he also acts as a mirror exposing the true faces of people. Tiananmen becomes much more relevant and this year’s commemoration becomes very different. Now is time to unite, when world history is turning a corner.

Chinese identity 

Gu Yi is a Muslim Hui student from Sichuan studying science in the US. He penned an open letter in 2015 urging China’s youth to learn the truth of Tiananmen. He was a toddler in 1989 and heard of the massacre from his teacher.

He says of Hongkongers’ plans to boycott the Tiananmen commemoration: “To me, Hong Kongers and Beijingers are all Chinese. From the point of view of nationalism, the Chinese being killed or being refused genuine universal suffrage would not concern us non-Chinese. I won’t forget Tiananmen, not because I’m Chinese, but because Tiananmen is like Auschwitz. Do we have to be Jewish to commemorate it?”

That sentiment is shared by Tsoi Wing-mui, a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong. In a recent article for Citizen News, Tsoi laments the low turnout for the Tiananmen anniversary march last Sunday: “Students and civilians in Beijing were slaughtered, that’s unrelated to me. We don’t have to speak up on it. But when our Umbrella Movement was being cracked down, the world supported us. Should we tell the world that Hong Kong people’s fate has nothing to do with them so they shouldn’t support us?”

In early 2014, several prominent Chinese dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, called for a revolution to topple the CCP. The revolution started in Hong Kong.

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Wang Dengyao, a Tiananmen massacre survivor and worker activist, with Rose. Photo: Rose Tang.

During my nine years of living in Hong Kong I loved attending Tiananmen candlelight vigils. Every year on June 4th, Victoria Park became a Utopia for a few hours where people from all walks of life were immersed in love, sorrow and hope. In 2005, I left Hong Kong for good — it was becoming a city of sadness.

In 2014, the Fragrant Harbor sprang back to life and its people had never been this gorgeous. I camped among students by a freeway at Admiralty that had been transformed into a tent city. This was a Tiananmen redux: open forums and parties day and night; the rallies and marches. the food and the music. Only when people are free can they be truly creative, beautiful and happy.

For the first time, Hong Kong stood up, and stood out as an independent individual with a strong identity, further away from the “motherland”. It was a revolution, of people’s hearts and minds. Those who were there, no matter how young, will remember it.

umbrella pro-democracy legco legislature Occupy Central, Thursday 4 (1) (Copy)
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

During the Umbrella Revolution, I met numerous Chinese who had traveled over to offer support, even though more than a dozen had been detained. The city was, and still is the frontline of a struggle against the Chinese Communist regime. And it’s the only place under the regime where people can protest without being killed.

Among the bulldozed rubble in 2014 were the seeds of the future: Hongkongers I met then later formed groups or political parties, such as Joshua Wong of Demosistō, Wilson Leung of Progressive Lawyers’ Group, Edward Chin of “2047 Hong Kong Monitor”. And Lau Siu-lai, who invited me to speak about Tiananmen at her forum, is now a legislator.

While Hong Kong’s mainstream media outlets were bought out or infiltrated by Beijing, new outlets were born, such as HKFP and Factwire.


Before the Umbrella Revolution, did anyone talk openly about Hong Kong independence?

Remembering June 4th is not in conflict with building an independent state. Tibetan independence activists have been commemorating Tiananmen for years. The Tank Man has been a universal symbol adopted by demonstrators around the world.

More and more Chinese, including those inside China, engage in discussions of provinces’ secession from Beijing. China was never a monolith throughout history — dynasties were broken up by periods of kingdoms co-existing.

china dynasties
Shifting dynasties and kingdoms. Photo: Wikicommons.

The very fact that the Communist Party has been cracking down on Hong Kong means it sees the city as a thorn in the flesh. But Hong Kong has been a major money laundering base for corrupt cadres, so they can’t afford to kill it.

The recent spate of arrests of Hong Kong activists are the latest example of Beijing’s fear-mongering. Its “divide and conquer” tactic encourages hatred between Hongkongers and mainland Chinese. The Chinese government issues one-way permits to 150 citizens to migrate to Hong Kong everyday.

But new immigrants are potential voters. Rather than hating them as “locusts”, why not de-brainwash them and win them over to our movement?

Hong Kong activists have already met with their counterparts of Taiwan and Tibet, and toured the world. Why not push it further, clarifying the goal of becoming independent, together? Be splittists, and be very proud. Do what hurts the feelings of the Chinese government the most. Trump and Xi unintentionally bring all of us together, making us great again.

Recently I shared on Facebook a map of China carved into separate nation states, with this message from a Chinese Twitter user: “China is not a nation, but a prison for nations.” Tibetan poet and activist Tenzin Tsundue, who has been detained in Tibet, comments: “PRC, Prisoners’ Republic of China.”

Within another 30 years, the teenagers of Umbrella and toddlers of Tiananmen will be in their prime age and will be THE boss.

Just as Tiananmen triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc and inspired countless movements around the world, a splittist revolution in Hong Kong could be the first domino to bring down the world’s largest terrorist organization.

An extended version of this piece can be found on Rose Tang’s blog. Follow Rose on Medium.

Rose Tang is a Brooklyn-based writer, artist and activist from Sichuan. She campaigns on human rights in the United States, China, Hong Kong and Tibet. Tang's activism stems from her survival from Tiananmen Massacre as a student protester.