Generally speaking the apologists for dictatorships and their atrocities try their best to gloss over the worst excesses of the regimes they seek to defend. But things have reached such a pass in Hong Kong that no compunction is shown in actually organising demonstrations that condemn the commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

It is hard to exaggerate how rare this is. Most apologists for the Nazi holocaust, for example, never actually proclaim that it was a good thing but weasel their way around the atrocity by denying that it took place. The same goes for the defenders of the old Soviet gulags, who dismiss stories of their history as ‘capitalist propaganda’.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

But in Hong Kong, we have rent-a-mobs who don’t even bother to deny the atrocity and insist that the memory of June 4 should be expunged. They turn out during the annual Victoria Park commemoration of the massacre and have been holding vigils outside the soon to be opened June 4 museum.

In the case of the museum, the cowardly protestors claim – wait for it – that their real concern is fire safety in the Mong Kok building where it is housed. Having succeeded in forcing the closure of the previous commemorative museum on similar grounds in 2016, the apologists sense that they have the upper hand and will succeed in this second attempt to drive away a permanent memorial for the massacre.

Meanwhile in the legislature annual attempts to pass a motion condemning the events of 1989 are routinely boycotted and voted down by the pro-government camp’s legislators, who at least have the decency to remain silent, perhaps knowing in their heart of hearts that trying to make a case for this atrocity is beyond their capabilities.

Books on the Tiananmen Massacre at the June 4 Museum. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Yet out on the streets the mysterious people behind the rent-a-crowds feel sufficiently emboldened to call attention to the massacre by castigating those who refuse to forget it. This suggests that a new depth has been reached in what passes for political discourse here in Hong Kong.

Not only do they seek to erase the memory of the massacre itself (which incidentally is generally described in the mainstream media as an ‘event’ or a ‘crackdown’) but they want Hongkongers to forget the unprecedented response it provoked in Hong Kong when some million people filled the streets in silent anger and mourning. Back then even staff from pro-Communist newspapers showed their support.

Some of those who marched and even spoke at the 1989 rallies have now firmly hitched themselves to the Chinese Communist Party’s juggernaut but lack the courage to admit it. Instead, they proclaim themselves to be born again patriots. In all events, it is important for them to forget and to pretend that they never even thought of being aligned with the party’s foes.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

The party is now bombarding Hong Kong’s ever-obliging leaders with an insistence on stepping up mainland-style political indoctrination in schools and reinforcing the patriotic shtick with new legislation, such as the pending national anthem law, which forms part of the effort to criminalise dissent.

Despite all this, Hongkongers still have the freedom to study more than one version of history. Unfortunately, it is carelessly abused by those who insist that harping on about Tiananmen is not helpful, as ‘it is time to move on’. The problem with moving on without looking backwards is that nothing is learned and dire mistakes are repeated.

Fortunately, the shadow of history lingers tenaciously among the citizens of Hong Kong and they are well aware that one of the things that separates this place from the Mainland is the freedom to have access to various versions of history.

As matters stand the dictatorship’s most avid apologists are in a distinct minority in Hong Kong. When they manage to mobilise in the streets, they are never able to draw a fraction of the crowds who turn out in Victoria Park on June 4. And it is comforting to know that not a single person who makes the trek to the democrat-organised June 4 commemoration ever needs to be paid or given other inducements to be there.

Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship