Humans of Hong Kong

Humans of Hong Kong

Translated version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News. 立場新聞專題、人訪的英文版本。

2020/6/6 - 15:36

Defying the Police Ban and Defending the Memories of 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in 2020 Hong Kong

For the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the Hong Kong police banned the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, citing coronavirus-related public health concerns – the sea of candlelights was to be no more. As the spectre of the national security law looms in Hong Kong, it remains uncertain whether chants of “abolish one-party rule,” as has been a tradition in such annual gatherings, could be liable to the charge of “subversion of state power.” This year, the heavily barricaded Victoria Park shows the government’s intolerance of any dissenting views.  

That’s why, as the people removed the barricades and entered onto the football pitches to light up each of their candles, though the flames were fewer this year, they shone upon a resolution to defend the truth that burned brighter than ever before.

Photograph: Hong Kongers removing the erected barricades to make their way to Victoria Park.

Photograph: Hong Kongers removing the erected barricades to make their way to Victoria Park.

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Tens of thousand Hong Kongers defied the police’s ban and repeated warnings of potential violations of the Public Order Ordinance as well as the ban on gatherings to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Victoria Park. Police officers stood guard warily outside Victoria Park, but by 8pm, still had not dispersed the crowd. Media reports citing the police said they would not enforce the ban with a heavy hand if the candlelight vigil was peaceful.

As night fell, some Hong Kongers removed the barricades erected around the football pitches, then members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the usual organiser for the commemoration, filed into the Park along with the crowd. By 7pm, as people sat while maintaining social distance, almost two football pitches had been filled.

Photograph: Allan Au, a veteran journalist and his wife (left)

Photograph: Allan Au, a veteran journalist and his wife (left)

Amongst the first to file into Victoria Park after the barricades were removed were Allan Au, a veteran journalist, and his wife. They did not chant slogans, but only sat silently in the middle of the football pitches with their candles. ‘This place is ours. Every Hong Konger has the right to come here. The government should explain why they arbitrarily closed off the football pitches,’ Au said. The biggest difference of this year’s candlelight vigil from the previous years’ is that ‘no one knows whether this will still be allowed next year.’ 

‘I treat each time as if it’s the last,’ he said.

Gradually, a few hundred had gathered on the football pitches. 80-year-old Mr Chan was holding a candle as he watched from outside the football pitches. From time to time, people came up to him to light their own candles. For 30 years, Mr Chan has attended every candlelight vigil to commemorate June Fourth, rain or shine.  Commenting on the police’s ban this year’s gathering, he sighed: ‘I am speechless. It’s frustrating.’ 

In 1989, Mr Chan was working for a printing company. He followed the news of the protest movement on TV from evening until daybreak and was too worried to fall asleep. Hong Kong was also gripped by fear. ‘When I delivered the completed orders to customers, they did not want it anymore. They were closing down and leaving Hong Kong.’ For the past year, many Hong Kongers spent many sleepless nights watching live-streamed videos of the street protests until dawn. Now that even the candlelight vigil is banned, Mr Chan said: ‘It’s a bit saddening, I feel more and more helpless.’

Photograph: Mr Chan, 80 years old, has attended every June Fourth commemoration in Victoria Park since 1989.

Photograph: Mr Chan, 80 years old, has attended every June Fourth commemoration in Victoria Park since 1989.

Although Mr Chan did not think Hong Kong today is as frightening as Beijing in 1989, he reckoned: ‘(The police) are brutal and ruthless in their own ways, beating the youngsters until their arms, legs, ribs are fractured – what did they do to deserve this?’ And it seems very likely that Hong Kong is steadily heading in that direction. ‘Simply put, once the national security law passed, I won’t dare to speak to you like this. I’ll definitely keep my mouth shut.’ As more draconian laws are in the pipeline, he did not worry too much about himself because he is getting old. ‘I only feel sorry for the young generations,’ he said.

Mr and Mrs Wong, who were in their 50s, were also looking in from outside the pitches like Mr Chan, having arrived in Victoria Park at 7pm. They too had attended every candlelight vigil since 1989. Mrs Wong said she couldn’t find the words to describe her mixed feelings towards the ban on the vigil. She paused, then said: ‘I used to think Hong Kong has freedoms, so this is just depressing.’

The crowd rose quickly to over thousands, filling up the football field. Mr and Mrs Wong are both civil servants, and the cautious Mrs Wong did not dare to overstep the boundary. ‘But I’ll feel awful if I did not come over,’ she said.’ Hearing that, Mr Wong tried to reassure her: ‘It’s the thought that counts. It doesn’t matter if we’re outside.”

Photograph: Mr Chan, 80 years old, has attended every June Fourth commemoration in Victoria Park since 1989.

Photograph: Mr Chan, 80 years old, has attended every June Fourth commemoration in Victoria Park since 1989.

Mrs Wong was still a student in 1989, and felt only outrage when watching the events unfold on TV. She felt something similar amid the turmoil in Hong Kong over the past year, yet there were differences too. ‘The erosion of freedom is a lot closer to home now, I can finally understand how that feels.’ 

Among the crowds, there were children too, including a little girl sitting on her stool. Her mother, Miss Wong, said she knew of the police’s ban but was determined to take her daughter along. She stressed that they were not participating in an assembly, but only commemorating the Massacre on their own. ‘The worst that could happen is getting tear-gassed, we won’t be sent off to jail.’ Miss Wong said.

Photograph: Miss Wong and her daughter

Photograph: Miss Wong and her daughter

Another pair – Miss Lee and Miss Wong – were indignant at the police ban. Despite the risk of a crackdown, they reckoned there’s nothing to fear. ‘They’ve tried to scare us this whole past year, so we might as well come today,’ Miss Wong said. She felt more connected to the Tiananmen Square Massacre since last year’s anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Miss Lee’s son was born in 1989. She was pregnant when watching the Massacre happen on live TV, tears streaming down her face, so she feels particularly strongly about June Fourth. 

Photograph: Miss Lee and Miss Wong are outraged by the police ban on the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park.

Photograph: Miss Lee and Miss Wong are outraged by the police ban on the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park.

Miss Wong urged Hong Kongers to ‘act on their own.’ ‘We do what we want to do, it isn’t up to what this regime says…If we cannot even defend our turf, where else can we gather (to commemorate the Massacre)?’ Miss Wong asked.

High-schoolers Goldfish and Flower had never participated in the June Fourth candlelight vigil. They had only started learning about June Fourth two years ago. ‘If they had succeeded, China could have been much more democratic and free…just like how the world thought Hong Kong would make China more democratic,’ they said. 

The two said they felt ‘very close’ to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, that their destinies were tied. ‘We are both resisting the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian regime.’

Photograph: Goldfish and Flower show a photograph of the 1989 Massacre on their tablets. They are in their final year in high school.

Photograph: Goldfish and Flower show a photograph of the 1989 Massacre on their tablets. They are in their final year in high school.