June 4 Museum Reopens Online, Defying Hong Kong Authorities’ Attempts To Close It

A Hong Kong June 4 museum shuttered by authorities earlier this year has reopened online under new leadership based outside of Hong Kong. The museum first opened in 2014 on the 25th anniversary of People’s Daily’s infamous “April 26 Editorial”, sponsored by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. It was forced to close in June 2021, just days before the anniversary of June 4, and was fined HK$8,000 in late July for failing to hold the proper operating license. At The South China Morning Post, Jeffie Lam reported on the return of what was once the only brick-and-mortar museum about June 4 on Chinese soil:

The HK$1.7 million online project, which was paid for by 1,186 people who made donations between June and August last year, was advised by an academic panel comprising scholars who specialise in Chinese social movements. They included sinologist Perry Link, of the University of California, Riverside, and Jean-Philippe Béja, of the Centre for International Studies and Research at Sciences Po, in Paris.

[…] “What Hong Kong is experiencing today is actually the continuation of the Tiananmen crackdown. We are saddened by the pressure, torture and pain that the Hong Kong alliance and the courageous protesters have gone though,” Chang Ping, [the Germany-based Chinese writer who doubles as the leader of the new digital museum], told the Post.

[…] “But that also makes us believe in the museum’s value even more – it is not only documenting the struggle, it is a struggle itself.” [Source]

The digital museum’s six halls (Time, Space, People, Art, Media, and Hong Kong) include a vast collection of political, material, cultural, and personal history. Exhibits include timelines of the Beijing protest movement, maps showing local protest movements across China, and collections of music, film, and literature inspired by 1989, among numerous other exhibits. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Chang Ping said:

We hope that this project will remind people that all of us—everyone who has been born and everyone who has lived since the gunshots rang out that year—are survivors of the June 4 Massacre. Looking back on all that has happened in the past 30 years, it is clear that China’s global trajectory was decided on June 4, 1989. This museum does more than simply present history: it reveals the state of the world today. [Chinese]

The Alliance decided to transfer leadership of the museum to groups outside of Hong Kong after a political risk assessment conducted earlier this year. Organized June 4 commemorations have been effectively—although not explicitly—criminalized in Hong Kong since the passage of the National Security Law in 2020. An annual Victoria Park vigil organized by the Alliance was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 on the ostensible basis of coronavirus-related health concerns. The Alliance’s vice-chairwoman, Chow Hang Tung, was arrested on June 4 of this year for promoting the gathering in Victoria Park. “She only wanted to go to Victoria Park, light a candle and commemorate,” an Alliance executive told Reuters.

In an article headlined “The Five Great Crimes of the Alliance’s So-called Human Rights Museum,” pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po accused the new digital museum of violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law because it showcases photos in which the protest slogans “Liberate Hong Kong” and “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Ours Times” are clearly visible. In 2020, Tian Feilong, a Beijing law professor believed to have the ear of PRC officials responsible for China’s Hong Kong policy, laid similar charges at the museum’s feet, claiming that the June 4 museum was an attempt to “wrest away discourse power about history” and thus can be considered an act of subversion of state power or even an act of terrorism. At Nikkei Asia, Kenji Kawase reported on the government’s assault on the Alliance and Hong Kong’s “white terror”:

The group has been a key target of the authorities’ crackdown on dissenting voices in Hong Kong. Luo Huining, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong, said at an event in June celebrating the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party that the territory’s “genuine archenemy” is the one advocating “the end of one-party dictatorship” — an implicit reference to a key slogan of the Hong Kong Alliance.

After the group’s fundraising for the virtual museum, Tian Feilong, an associate professor at the Beihang University Law School in Beijing and the director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said in a newspaper commentary that the planned online exhibits would be “disseminating untrue and inflammatory historical materials to the international community.”

[…] A number of activists and politicians have gone into exile. Visual artist Kacey Wong, known for political works on topics including the Tiananmen crackdown, announced this week on social media that he had moved to Taiwan. Steve Vines, longtime host of a political talk show on public broadcaster RTHK, told friends and former colleagues on Monday that he had fled to the U.K. to avoid a “white terror sweeping through Hong Kong.” [Source]

In June, CDT translated a letter from jailed pro-democracy activist Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam in which she reflected on the importance of remembering June 4 in Hong Kong:

Since 2019, for Hong Kongers, June 4 has transformed from a memory to a juxtaposition. Without a doubt, the regime’s penchant for eliminating memory is tyrannical, but as we think about how to transfer memory down to the next generation, we also need to answer a question: As we suffer our own personal trauma (though they differ in degree), what is the connection between the memory of June 4 and local resistance in Hong Kong beyond our disputes over identity?

[…] Precisely because memory will be extinguished, and history will be covered up, we must not stop at “memory.” If memory only occurs in the mind, and is maintained only at the level of mental/conscious activities, it eventually becomes nothing more than a personal recollection.

Perhaps real legacy is to bear memory, and then to create a new collective memory. This is the way to keep a 30-year-old thing alive in the face of an ever-changing reality.

Moreover, it must be visible. Before the ground becomes still, and all sounds of protest fall silent. [Source]

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