Hong Kong remembers Tiananmen, concerned about its own future

Hong Kong remembers Tiananmen, concerned about its own future

Hong Kong tiananmen vigil
People attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Jun 4, 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen incident in Beijing. (Photo: AFP/Philip FONG)

HONG KONG: Large crowds turned out for a mass candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on Tuesday evening (Jun 4) marking 30 years since the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, a gathering tinged with symbolism as the city struggles to preserve its own freedoms.

The eye-catching spectacle - in which thousands of Hong Kongers clutched candles, sang songs and listened to emotional speeches - is the only place in China were such commemorations can be safely held.

Hong Kong candlelight vigil
Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China on Jun 4, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)

The semi-autonomous financial hub has hosted an annual vigil every year since protesters were cleared from Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Jun 4, 1989 - an illustration of the city's unusual freedoms and vibrant political scene.

Organised by a group of veteran democracy activists, the vigil demands justice for victims and for China to embrace democracy.

But in more recent years the mass gatherings have taken on an increasingly contemporary significance as angst builds over Hong Kong's future.

Hong Kong Tiananmen vigil
Thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil for victims of the Chinese government's move to clear protesters from Beijing's Tiananmen Square at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Jun 4, 2019. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)

Organisers were hoping for a big turnout for Tuesday night's vigil, fuelled by both the milestone of the thirtieth anniversary itself and concerns about an increasingly assertive Beijing.

'HEARTBROKEN'

This year's vigil comes at a time of huge controversy over plans by the city's pro-Beijing government to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland for the first time.

The proposed law has sparked a backlash from figures in the legal and business communities as well as the largest demonstrations Hong Kong has seen since 2014, a year when pro-democracy protesters took over key intersections of the city for more than two months.

Hong Kong pillar of shame
University students clean the "Pillar of Shame" statue, a memorial for those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen incident, at the University of Hong Kong on Jun 4, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

Tuesday's vigil also comes just weeks after key leaders of those protests were jailed.

A child holds a candle as people arrive for a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong
A child holds a candle as people arrive for a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

"I'm so heartbroken, I think Hong Kong is moving backwards step by step," added a 56-year-old woman, who only gave her initials QQL because she didn't want her family to know she was attending. "We have to speak out, even if it's just with a small voice."

50-YEAR DEAL

Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and assembly rights unseen on the Chinese mainland under a 50-year handover agreement between former colonial power Britain and China.

But many fear those liberties are being eroded and questioned Beijing's commitment to that deal.

Hong Kong tiananmen vigil
People attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Jun 4, 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1989 Tiananmen protest in Beijing. (Photo: AFP/Philip FONG)

In recent years protest leaders have been jailed and banned from politics while the disappearance into Chinese custody of a group of Beijing-critical booksellers rattled nerves.

Tiananmen survivors have previously appeared at past vigils but in recent years some have found themselves turned away by local authorities.

On Sunday, former protest leader Feng Congde was barred from entering the city on arrival at the airport and deported, organisers said.

Attendance at the vigil has remained above 100,000 for the last decade according to an organiser-run tally, but the numbers have slipped the last four years after the 2014 democracy protests failed to win any concessions from Beijing.

Many younger Hong Kongers have since embraced "localism", which focuses on preserving local Cantonese culture and freedoms and regards mainland China as a hostile entity subsuming their city.

The proportion of those attending the vigil aged under 30 dropped from 55 per cent to 31 per cent between 2010 and 2018 according to surveys while student unions have boycotted the vigil the last five years.

Annual polling from the University of Hong Kong has shown consistent replies with a majority saying the Tiananmen students were right to protest and that China was wrong to suppress them.

A man stands in front of a photo from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests at a museum in Hong Kong
A man stands in front of a photo from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests at a museum in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

Source: AFP/ec

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