HONG KONG — Tens of thousands* of Hong Kong residents gathered a few days early, on June 1, 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989, crushed with deadly force by Chinese troops.
The protests were a watershed for Hong Kong, which in 1989 was just eight years away from returning to China after 150 years as a British colony.
To this day, Hong Kong is the only place in China where the events of 1989 are publicly remembered.
June 4 marks the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. Thousands of people march on a downtown street in Hong Kong, June 1, 2014.
June 4 marks the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. Thousands of people march on a downtown street in Hong Kong, June 1.
In 1989, poet Meng Lang was working as an editor at Shenzhen University.
A native of Shanghai, he had moved to one of China’s most rapidly developing cities. Meng said the southern city near Hong Kong offered a unique window into the 1989 students’ movement.
“Shenzhen was the only place in China where we could freely watch TV news from Hong Kong,” Meng said.
“Every household could watch Hong Kong news. Every building had an antenna called a ‘fishbone antenna,’ so we knew everything that had happened to the students movement, from the death of Hu Yaobang to the repression on June 4th.”
Watching those news broadcasts, Meng said Hong Kong’s support was unmistakable.
“There were many demonstrations. They also collected a lot of money to send to the students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square,” he said. “In 1989 Hong Kong was facing the reality of returning to China [in eight years], so people in Hong Kong had a question about that.”
The question, Meng said, was whether the freedoms the city-state had enjoyed as a British colony could be sustained under Chinese rule.
In the past 25 years, Hong Kong has transitioned to be a part China, but has retained an independent legal system and a free press.
It is also the only place in China where the events of the spring of 1989 are commemorated every year.
Annual march in Hong Kong
On Sunday, several thousand people joined a march in memory of the June 4 protests. Protesters called on Beijing to release imprisoned political dissidents and formally acknowledge the bloody crackdown of 1989.
“For the last 25 years, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has always refused to talk about June 4th. That is why we come here every year,” said Sin Ka Kuen, a student in Hong Kong.
Sixty-year old Deng was also at the march.
“I will use my last strengths to remember the Chinese democratic movement,” Deng said.
This year, Hong Kong is deciding over the details of universal suffrage – how to nominate candidates and elect its own leaders in 2017 and what method to form a legislature in 2020.
Pro-democracy activists said Beijing is trying to pass a law that will exclude dissenting voices from participating as candidates.
Lee Cheuk Yan, one of the organizers of Sunday’s march, said, “In Hong Kong, where we still have the space, we should come and protest. And it’s also about Hong Kong, because if there are suppression in China, they also are trying to intervene into our freedoms in Hong Kong. ”
In the weeks leading up to the Tiananmen anniversary, authorities in Beijing have detained activists, scholars and intellectuals because of their efforts to privately commemorate those who died in 1989.
A mass candle-lit vigil is planned on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, in which hundreds of people, by some estimates more than 1,000, died.