The leader of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s student union has dismissed criticism suggesting it was “cold-blooded” to call for an end to mass commemorations honouring the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

The union was embroiled in controversy over their statement which dismissed hosting or joining any commemorative activity marking the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown on Sunday.

It said for the younger generation, June 4 was not as meaningful as recent local activism such as the 2014 umbrella movement and the unruly protests last year in Mong Kok. The focus should be on local issues first, not on June 4 which “carries a patriotic national spirit.” It said “mass commemoration may need to pause or end one day.”

1989 Tiananmen Massacre vigil
The 2017 Tiananmen Massacre vigil in Victoria Park. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

It added that after the union independently held a forum on June 4 last year, there has not been any progress in the discussion of bloody crackdown and its connection to Hong Kong society. It claimed hosting activities without new insights takes advantage of the incident.

The brutal crackdown in Beijing ended months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to end the peaceful demonstrations.

‘Ignorant and lazy’

CUHK alumni and some members of the public have issued counter statements criticising the union for “being ignorant, cold-blooded and lazy” since it did not propose any new plans or actions to commemorate the incident. It was also slammed the union for using the “Goddess of Democracy” statue at the university as a background for the online statement.

But Au Tze-ho, the president of the union, said the point of the statement was not to distance themselves from June 4, as he agreed that the incident has a deep impact in Hong Kong.

“It was indeed the political enlightenment for some Hongkongers,” he said on a Commercial Radio programme on Monday. “But does the new generation have the feeling of being ‘connected by blood’?”

He said they would not join any events which have a patriotic element.

But he said the phrases and structure of the statement could be improved, and stated that the controversial part relating to “a stop sign” needing to be established for June 4 could be modified to emphasise that their point was only about ending mass commemorative events.

Au Tze-ho Lee Man-yiu
Lee Man-yiu (left) and Au Tze-ho (right).

“Whether we should commemorate, whether we should attend the vigil – shouldn’t we have an opportunity to calmly think: what are we commemorating at the vigil?” he asked.

He claimed that the public may not be able to digest all the information every year, since topics related to June 4 often appeared in the news only when it was close to the day.

He said if students did not agree with their statement over June 4, there is a mechanism to remove union leaders from office.


Posted by 中大學生會 CUSU on Saturday, 3 June 2017

Au also said he did not agree that the younger generation had a responsibility to build a democratic China, and said there may be a need to consider the adverse effect building a democratic China would have in terms of building a democratic Hong Kong.

Lee Man-yiu, the union’s external affairs secretary, said on a RTHK programme that it estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of the undergraduates agreed with not commemorating June 4. Though he did not give details of how it came up with the number.

He added that the union was elected by students and it has the right to decide against commemorating the incident, and students did not need to be consulted over every single matter.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.