Attendees at Monday’s annual vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre expressed support for its continuing relevance, despite many students turning their back on the event.

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

According to organisers, around 115,000 people gathered in Victoria Park to mark the 29th anniversary of the crackdown this year, while police put the figure at 17,000. The annual vigil is organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

Photo: inmediahk.net.

The response comes after eight Hong Kong university student unions chose not to attend the main vigil this year. The unions that it was “not Hongkongers’ responsibility to seek justice for the victims.” It indicates a growing divide between young activists who wish to pay tribute to the massacre victims and those who consider it to be increasingly irrelevant.

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“It is the very least people can do under the tyranny of the PRC government – even though there is Basic Law, we have to defend democracy by remembering those who sacrificed [themselves] for democracy,” Beto Chong, a 24-year-old nurse told HKFP. “I understand how the students feel, but at the same time, I would not give up on the June 4 event.”

Beto Chong. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Some participants believe Hong Kong people have a responsibility to seek justice for the victims. “This is the only place under China where we can do this,” Jacob, a 32-year-old teacher in Sha Tin told HKFP. “No matter how they change the textbook or how they try to rewrite history, it happened and we know.”

Photo: inmediahk.net.

He said he believed some students “think differently because they are really trying to separate Hong Kong from the rest of China. It’s their choice not to come, but we will be here.”

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Others disagreed with the boycott. “I don’t understand why they don’t feel connected to the event. This is the problem with our generation… my main reason for attending is to not to support China but student movements, like the Umbrella Movement,” said graduate Zoe Leung, 24.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

However, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong expressed continued support for the event. He told HKFP: “We need to point out how Beijing is violating a basic human right, so whether we recognise ourselves as Chinese or not, the Tiananmen Square Massacre is still the most important event to show how Beijing suppresses democracy.”

Joshua Wong. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

The Tiananmen massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending 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 crack down on protesters in Beijing.


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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.