Hong Kong’s museum commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre has reopened after a two-month shutdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan has told HKFP that it will continue to preserve “historical truth” despite shifting red lines under the Beijing-enacted national security law.

Designed by Hong Kong political cartoonist Wong Kei-kwan, better known as Zunzi. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the Mong Kok-based June 4 museum reopened on Tuesday. It houses items from the 1989 massacre in Beijing as well as those from last year’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which often featured violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

The exhibition draws comparisons between the citywide pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the student-led movement in China’s capital 31 years ago, which resulted in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths as Chinese authorities responded with a military clampdown.

Timelines of the anti-extradition bill movement in Hong Kong and 1989 movement in Beijing. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The timelines of important events from the two movements are set side by side, while publicity materials used by the different generations of demonstrators are also on display.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The showcase also features recreations of protest scenes from 1989 and 2019, designed by local political cartoonist Wong Kei-kwan, better known as Zunzi. One of his works depicts a human chain formed by Hongkongers and demonstrators in Beijing.

A Peking University t-shirt with signatures of participants in the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Banners of popular protest slogans chanted in Hong Kong and Beijing are on display at the exhibition, including “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which has been banned since early July. The government says the slogan has pro-independence, secessionist and subversive connotations and violates the sweeping security legislation — which also criminalises collusion with foreign forces and interruption to transport and other infrastructure.

A small poster in the museum that reads “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lee, general secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance, told HKFP on Thursday that the museum had no plans to take down any protest banners. He said any such removal would not guarantee it would be safe from official scrutiny or a crackdown, saying there was “no point in guessing” where the red lines run under the security law.

“What about the whole concept of condemning the June 4th massacre and one-party rule? It’s a never-ending game of guessing what is safe and what is not,” Lee said in a telephone interview.

Armbands from the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

But the pro-democracy figure would not say the exhibition was in defiance of the law: “What we are doing in the museum is to preserve memory and the historical truth. If we try to hide the historical truth, then we are no longer a museum.”

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

To preserve an archive of documents and other relics related to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Lee said the group raised more than HK$1.5 million from a crowdfunding campaign in June to launch a virtual museum. He estimated the museum could finish the scanning of documents and other digitalisation work by the end of December, but the official launch would take at least another six months.

Pins and stickers created for the demonstration in Beijing in 1989. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Even in the future, if anything happens to the museum, we will still be able to preserve the historic proof through the online platform,” Lee said.

The democracy campaigner was among the 26 activists accused of either participating in or inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly, after appearing at a banned vigil in Victoria Park on June 4th. Other prominent figures facing trial alongside Lee include Joshua Wong and media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

A “Lennon Wall” message board in the June 4th Museum. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Police banned the annual candlelight vigil for the first time in three decades, citing coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings. Despite the ban, thousands of Hongkongers gathered in the Causeway Bay park to remember the Tiananmen Square crackdown, while many others joined community commemorative events across the city.

A replica of a university student newspaper published during the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lee said authorities may find reasons to ban the vigil again in the future, because of the national security law and what he described as attempts to suppress freedom of assembly. But the alliance would continue to organise the annual commemoration and keep the museum open, he said.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“We hope that there will not be a day like that, but one cannot be optimistic now, when the Chinese Communist Party is doing a frontal attack on various groups in Hong Kong and the freedom that we enjoy.”

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.