Mourners in several cities are scheduled on Saturday to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, when China’s military killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of protesters in Beijing. But for the first time, commemorations in Hong Kong are set to be largely muted.

Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.
The last official, mass Tiananmen vigil in Victoria Park in 2019. Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Over the past two years, authorities armed with the Beijing-imposed national security law and citing Covid curbs have made dozens of arrests related to banned vigils and have erased physical mementos of Tiananmen. HKFP examines key moments.

Hong Kong Alliance

Saturday is the first anniversary without the presence of the group which, for decades, organised mass mourning – the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

Tiananmen vigil Victoria Park 2020
The annual vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Formed in May 1989,the Alliance had organised annual candlelight vigils since 1990 in Victoria Park, where tens of thousands solemnly gathered for a de facto funeral, protest songs and speeches. It had five goals: release the dissidents, vindicate the 1989 pro-democracy movement, demand accountability from Beijing, end one-party dictatorship, and build a democratic China.

But after the national security law came into force, the city’s then-security chief John Lee, a former policeman who will take over as leader this July 1, said the calls to end one-party rule violated the sweeping legislation.

John Lee
Chief Executive-elect John Lee. Photo: GovHK.

The Alliance disbanded after a vote by members last September following the prosecution of its leaders.

Seven former leaders and standing committee members of the Alliance face prosecution under the security law. Ex-lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, along with barrister Chow Hang-tung, are accused of inciting subversion. The latter’s oratory in the courtroom remains of the few remaining public forums where the crackdown is mentioned. All three activists were denied bail.

Four former standing committee members, along with Chow, were charged with refusing to comply with a data probe by national security police. Two of them pleaded guilty and were sentenced to three months in jail.

Vigils and masses

Before 2020, Hong Kong was one of the very few places soil on Chinese where authorities allowed public commemorative events. Macau banned them on national security grounds in 2021, whilst Hong Kong cited Covid curbs on public gatherings to prohibit planned vigils in 2020 and last year.

tiananmen massacre vigil 31st 2020 june 4 victoria park
June 4, 2020. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

But large crowds, including a number of prominent pro-democracy figures, turned out in 2020 in defiance of the ban. A total of 24 people, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and activist Joshua Wong, were eventually brought to court and sentenced over the gathering.

In 2021, the police sealed off Victoria Park for the first time ahead of the vigil, but people gathered across the city to hold their own commemorations that evening.

Chow, the former vice-chairperson of the Alliance, was arrested on the morning of the 32nd anniversary, and was later jailed for 15 months for inciting others to take part in the banned commemoration.

Carrie Lam 25th handover anniversary red line
Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the press on May 31, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

This week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam appeared to invoke the national security law when asked about the legality of remembering the crackdown: “As far as any gathering is concerned there are a lot of legal requirements – there is the national security law, there is the social distancing restrictions under Cap. 599, and there is also a venue question,” she said on Tuesday.

Football pitches at Victoria Park, where crowds once gathered, have either been booked for other purposes on June 4 or have been placed “under maintenance.”

Victoria Park football pitch maintenance
A notice in Victoria Park saying that pitch number three and six would be temporarily closed for maintenance work from mid-May until June 16, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Catholic authorities in the city said last month that their churches would not hold commemorative masses, citing fears over the security legislation, but there might still be small-scale church masses. The Ward Memorial Methodist Church held a “prayer meeting for the peace for the people of the country” on Monday.

Overseas groups including Amnesty International have planned memorials and events across the globe.

Museum and books

Physical reminders of the 1989 clampdown have also been removed.

The June 4th Museum, managed by the defunct Alliance, was raided by national security police a day after the group’s leaders were arrested. Exhibits, including publications and leaflets from 1989, were taken away as evidence. The museum’s website was blocked in Hong Kong three days after the raid.

june 4 museum
Photo: Supplied.

The museum was already closed at the time, following accusations several months previously that it was operating without a licence.

HKFP also found that 29 books about the crackdown were removed from the shelves of public libraries last year.


Following the arrests, monuments on university campuses also began disappearing.

pillar of shame 2020 jens (11)The Pillar of Shame site
The Pillar of Shame at the University of Hong Kong – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: HKFP.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) removed a statue known as the Pillar of Shame from its campus in December last year.

goddess of democracy chinese university political prisonersCUHK after the Goddess of Democracy
The Goddess of Democracy on CUHK campus – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: HKFP.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) took away a Goddess of Democracy statue and Lingnan University removed a commemorative relief the following day.

The Lingnan Tiananmen Massacre relief – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: Lingnan University Students’ Union Press Bureau.

See also: Hong Kong’s 48-hour campus crackdown on the memory of the Tiananmen Massacre

swire bridgeSwire Bridge University of Hong Kong HKU Tiananmen repainted
Before and After: Photo: May James/Tom Grundy/HKFP. Swipe to reveal.

Swire Bridge, a section of pavement at HKU bearing a slogan dedicated to the victims of the crackdown, was covered up in January and later replaced with potted plants.

Future of June 4th

With Covid curbs on outside gatherings still in force and uncertainty over the security law’s “red lines,” Hong Kong is unlikely to see major public commemorations, though some anonymous student volunteers have hidden tiny Goddess of Democracy statues across CUHK’s campus.

cuhk goddess of democracy figure 3D printing June 4
A group of students from the Chinese University have hidden 3D-printed figures of the Goddess of Democracy around campus, after the school removed the historic statue in 2021. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Simon Leung, a former standing committee member of the Alliance, and one of the two who was jailed for three months over the data refusal case, told HKFP that while he would still mark the date, he had yet to decide how to do so.

Simon Leung
Simon Leung. Photo: Simon Leung, via Facebook.

“I still hope that [we] can still commemorate June 4th, especially when there is no one from the government saying that commemorating June 4th is illegal. I think [we] should not guess where the red lines are,” said Leung.

Chan Po-ying, chairperson of the League of Social Democrats, one of the few remaining active pro-democracy groups, told HKFP the group had yet to decide whether to hold any events.

Chan Po-ying
Chan Po-ying speaking outside the Wan Chai District Court after 10 democrats received sentences to up to 18 months in jail on May 28, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“You can see that the government has been using a lot of different laws to restrict our freedom of expression and speech,” said Chan. “This year, apart from the national security law, there are also a lot of other laws. Of course we will have certain considerations.”

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

legal precedents hong kong
security law transformed hong kong
contact hkfp

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.