A carnival hosted by 26 pro-Beijing organisations in part of Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park opened on Saturday morning – the eve of the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. For three decades, the space hosted the city’s annual commemorative vigil, which would normally take place on the June 4 anniversary.
The shopping fair, which was previously held indoors at a mall during winter, is scheduled to continue until Monday. The event has taken up four of the six football fields at the park, while the other two remaining fields have been closed for maintenance, according to the government.
The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.
Organisers said the purpose of the event was to celebrate the July 1 anniversary of the city’s Handover to China. It officially opened at 10 a.m. as temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Celsius.
Over 200 booths were set up by 26 local “hometown associations,” each of which represented a region in China.
Chan Kwok-ki, the chief secretary for administration of the city, appeared at the opening ceremony along with officials from China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.
Notices near the entrance of the event stated that no banners, leaflets, posters or other materials that convey political messages may be brought into the park.
Those who wish to enter the fair must go through a security check, and pay a HK$5 entrance fee with their Octopus cards.
The rules posted outside the event space also stated that participants must adhere to the city’s legal regulations, including compliance with the national security law. Visitors must ensure their activities will not endanger national security, one notice read.
An armoured vehicle, police cars and police officers were all spotted near the entrance.
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.
Since 2020, the authorities have denied permission for the candlelit gathering citing Covid-19, whilst the organising group – the Alliance – disbanded in 2021 in light of the national security law. Top officials will not say if mourning the Tiananmen dead is illegal.
‘No need to look back’
Hundreds of shoppers – mostly middle-aged or elderly people – were seen by an HKFP reporter at the event. Some primary school pupils were taken to the fair with their teachers.
Those braving the heat listened to speeches, admired cultural displays, and shopped at different stalls selling food and merchandise. Among the items on sale were police-themed souvenirs, including key rings featuring police tear gas warnings.
Mr. Ho, one of the carnival participants, told HKFP he thought there was no need to keep looking back at the Tiananmen crackdown.
“It’s like eating the same bowl of rice everyday – you’ll get bored too, right? …The era has progressed – to keep looking back on old debt is meaningless,” the local man in his 40s told HKFP.
Refusing to comment on the crackdown, Ho nevertheless said that he had no problem with others commemorating the event at the carnival site: “I wouldn’t worry about it as long as we manage to stay at peace.”
Mrs. Choi, who bought over a thousand dollars worth of seafood at the fair, told HKFP that she did not know much about politics, yet agreed that hosting an outdoor shopping event in the summer heat was an odd decision: “[A]fter all, food will spoil easier in such hot weather.”
Another shopper, surnamed Ng, said she had not been aware of the traditional Tiananmen crackdown vigil that was held at the site for three decades: “I simply want to buy the food I like here,” she said with a smile.
The blazing sun left the elderly wiping away sweat in a rest zone. Mr. Ng, a retired man who had put a towel on his head to stay cool, told HKFP that he had been feeling dizzy because of the heat.
“A rest area is not enough, and it was occupied by those old ladies… It would be better if this was held somewhere with air conditioners,” he said, adding that Victoria Park was not an ideal location for such a carnival.
The event was organised by the Federation of Hong Kong Guangdong Community Organisations (FHKGCO) – a pro-Beijing charity founded in 1996 – along with 25 other “hometown associations.”
On its website, the organisation says its mission is “persisting to love the country, Hong Kong and the homeland.”
A number of high-profile tycoons and politicians are among its board members, including Chief Executive John Lee – who is the principal honorary patron – and Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, who is the director.
The FHKGCO held a carnival with the same theme last December – along with the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions – at a shopping mall in Tuen Mun. In early May, it said it would host another one in Victoria Park.
Secretary for Security Chris Tang said on Monday that authorities would take action against people who plan to harm national security on “a special occasion in a few days time.”
The fair will continue tomorrow and close at 9pm.