Hong Kong June 4 Vigil Turnout Up From Last Year

Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil in commemoration of the lives lost in the crackdown on protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989 this year attracted 115,000 people–5,000 more than last year–according to organizers. The figure provided by local police, however, was 17,000, a slight decline from the official figure of 18,000 last year. Video clips from the vigil, shot and edited by the South China Morning Post’s Shanshan Kao, can be seen at Inkstone News. The South China Morning Post reports on how this year’s attendance defied expectations that numbers would continue to decrease, relays chants from the event and calls from organizers for a further increase in attendance next year, and notes that many young people showed up despite a student union boycott that has contributed to the dwindling numbers in recent years.

As rain gave way to a cool breeze, organisers led them in rousing chants of “End to the one-party dictatorship!” and “Building a democratic China!”

[…] Albert Ho Chun-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organises the vigil yearly, said many young people turned up despite the student union boycott.

But Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the number of young people was nothing compared with a few years ago, when the movement hit its peak.

[…] “The key is how many people will show up next year when we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the crackdown,” Choy said.

Ho called for, and predicted, a bigger turnout next year. […] [Source]

At the Hong Kong Free Press, Jennifer Creery reports further on the student union boycotts, quoting voices in support of the continued commemoration of the day. The boycotts illustrate a growing generational divide among Hong Kong residents and within the pro-democracy movement in the city:

The response comes after eight Hong Kong university student unions chose not to attend the main vigil this year. The unions that it was “not Hongkongers’ responsibility to seek justice for the victims.” It indicates a growing divide between young activists who wish to pay tribute to the massacre victims and those who consider it to be increasingly irrelevant.

“It is the very least people can do under the tyranny of the PRC government – even though there is Basic Law, we have to defend democracy by remembering those who sacrificed [themselves] for democracy,” Beto Chong, a 24-year-old nurse told HKFP. “I understand how the students feel, but at the same time, I would not give up on the June 4 event.”

[32-year-old teacher Jacob, who is quotes saying “no matter how they change the textbook or how they try to rewrite history, it happened and we know,”] said he believed some students “think differently because they are really trying to separate Hong Kong from the rest of China. It’s their choice not to come, but we will be here.”

[…P]ro-democracy activist Joshua Wong expressed continued support for the event. He told HKFP: “We need to point out how Beijing is violating a basic human right, so whether we recognise ourselves as Chinese or not, the Tiananmen Square Massacre is still the most important event to show how Beijing suppresses democracy.” [Source]

A separate report from HKFP’s Holmes Chan notes the risks that attendees took in joining in on the chants at the vigil following recent statements from an official at the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and from Hong Kong’s only delegate at the NPC Standing Committee, who both threatened disqualification from running for public office if found chanting for the end of one-party rule. The report also puts this year’s vigil, and the associated risks of chanting while at it, in the context of recent amendments to China’s constitution. In 2016, four elected pro-democracy lawmakers were barred from taking seats on the Hong Kong Legislative Council after refusing to pledge their support for a unified Hong Kong and China. More recently, 21-year-old Agnes Chow saw her bid to run for political office in Hong Kong quashed this year due to her association with the Demosisto pro-democracy party.

Event organiser the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China decided to keep the slogan [“end one-party dictatorship”], which has been part of their political platform since 1989. In a declaration read at the close of the vigil, Vice-Chairperson Chow Hang-tung said the slogan is being made into a “taboo” but urged attendees to “dare to stand up and shout.”

[…] In March the Chinese constitution was amended to include a line stating “the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” A number of Chinese officials, including former director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Wang Guangya, have said that those who call for an end to Communist rule cannot run for office.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she could not guarantee that people will not be prosecuted for calling for an end to one-party rule.

Despite the warnings, the Hong Kong Alliance did not appear to shift its position. At a protest march last week, which served as a precursor to Monday’s vigil, Chairman Albert Ho said the slogan was “our freedom, our right, and also our belief.” […] [Source]

At The New York Times, Angie Chan reports her observations at the vigil, which she notes focused on freeing political prisoners in addition to commemorating the victims of the June 4 crackdown and calling for greater democracy in China:

Heavy rains on Monday also limited this year’s turnout at the event, held annually in the semiautonomous territory.

[…] Organizers of this year’s event have seized on the death the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, prominently displaying a bust of him in the city’s Times Square and bringing it to Monday night’s vigil. Democracy activists have been calling for the release of his widow, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest [see prior coverage of the death of Liu Xiaobo, and Liu Xia’s situation, via CDT].

[…] The vigil in Hong Kong is a stark departure from the situation in China, where protests are banned and mentions of the Tiananmen crackdown, in which hundreds if not thousands of protesters died, are scrubbed from social media. [Source]

Meanwhile, on the mainland, the Tiananmen Mothers, a loosely organized collective of family members of those killed in 1989, issued an open letter to President Xi Jinping, as they have every year since 1995, calling for redress and accountability for the deaths of their loved ones. Hong Kong Free Press published the letter:

No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened. There was a total disregard for the loss of invaluable human lives. We deeply feel the indifference and coldness of the authorities. The bitter coldness of the human world chills us to our hearts and marrow.

As a group of June Fourth victims, we have since 1995 repeatedly called on the Two Congresses and the country’s leaders to change their attitude, to bravely assume responsibility and consequences. However, government authorities have turned a deaf ear to our call. [Source]

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement calling on the Chinese government “to make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; to release those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.” In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry “lodged stern representations with the United States.”

Human Rights Watch protested government efforts to quash commemorations of the tragic events of 1989, while an underground church in Chengdu was raided before holding a planned service to mark the anniversary. Individual protesters around the world heeded a call by cartoonist Badiucao to reenact the famous image of the unidentified “Tank Man” standing in front of approaching military vehicles on the morning of June 5, 1989 in Beijing.

See also a list of the June 4-related words that CDT editors verified to have been blocked from Weibo search results between 2011-2016. Read more about June 4, via CDT, including a series reposting original news reporting from throughout the spring of 1989.