A watch awarded to members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen massacre is up for sale at the UK luxury auction house, Fellows.

The watch face is inscribed with the Chinese phrase “89.6. In Commemoration of Quelling the Rebellion” and features an image of a PLA soldier, according to the listing.

Photo: Fellows.

“The watch was given to troops by the Communist Party Beijing Committee and Beijing Municipal Government following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing,” the listing on Fellows’ website read.

“The Beijing Tiananmen Square democratic protests were led by students in June 1989. A military crackdown was ordered to suppress the protests, and once the PLA were sent to occupy parts of central Beijing, the incident resulted in many lives lost, although the exact number is often disputed,” it continued.

Photo: Fellows.

Historians estimate that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the PLA was deployed to crack down on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing on 4 June, 1989. Beijing’s official stance is that only 23 people died during the operation.

The watch, estimated to be worth £2,500 – £3,500, was sent to the auction house by “an owner who wishes to remain unnamed.” The medal watch is believed to be one in a few hundred given to chosen members of the PLA. “It is likely to be one of the only watches of this kind to go up for auction in the UK,” the listing read.

After the crackdown. Photo: HRIC archive, courtesy of Gail Butler, Libby Schmalz.

Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao accused the auction house of “auctioning evidence of the Tiananmen massacre” in a tweet on Thursday.

“This is the first time I have seen this kind of memorabilia watch,” an organiser of the 1989 student movement Liu Shiu exiled in the US told HKFP. “As a student leader of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, I feel indignant. The Chinese Communist Party’s encouragement and rewarding of soldiers for the bloody slaughter of innocent students and citizens is an enormous dishonour for June 4 protesters.”

“These kinds of auctions should be banned, just like the ban on medals issued by Hitler in Nazi Germany,” he added.

The sale of Nazi memorabilia is illegal in some parts of Europe, though no rules exist forbidding the auction of items relating to the Tiananmen Massacre.

Fellows is a family-run, UK luxury auction house established in 1876.

HKFP has reached out to Fellows for comment.

Update 01.04.21: This article was updated to include comments from Liu Siu, the exiled student leader.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.