As strong as ever
It may be the fourth time the event has been held since I’ve been in Hong Kong, but I’m rather ashamed to admit that this is only the first time I’ve actually packed up my lenses, picked up my camera, and gone out and attended the June 4th memorial service in Victoria Park.
Organisers are claiming a record turn out for last night’s 25th anniversary commemoration of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement. The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China has said that up to 180,000 people attended the annual candle-lit vigil. The police say the figure was more likely just under 100,000. Either way, the number of people attending last night’s vigil shows that 25 years on, rather than fading with the passing of time, the feelings aroused by the 1989 events remain as strong as ever.
Indeed, as you walk amongst the crowds – amongst those of the so-called “1989 generation” and those too young to have been born in 1989, let alone able to remember it – you get the feeling that twenty five years on, the commemoration, and maybe even the events themselves, mean something different than they did all those years ago. This may be a memorial service for those that lost their lives and their freedom on June 4th 1989, but it is one that gives voice now, not so much to the grief of a generation past, but anger at the state of things as they are today.
Different anger, same target
The students that gathered in Tiananmen Square during the spring of 1989 were protesting against corruption, yet with the country newly awash with money and opportunity, corruption in China seems even more rampant today. The students were also protesting against inequality and injustice, yet the economic boom of the last thirty years has led to a society more unequal than ever before, with a wealth gap that shows little sign of diminishing.
Here in Hong Kong, there is anger of a different kind, although the target is the same. Locals are angry at what they see as Hong Kong’s slow but steady assimilation with the mainland, about the endless search for democracy and the slow eroding of Hong Konger’s rights as outlined under the Basic Law. The Victoria Park vigil has thus become a focal point not only of anger about Beijing’s continued denial of the past, but of a very real and pressing set of issues that will define the nature of Hong Kong’s existence over the next 25 years.
Hence the turn out last night. It was a demonstration not so much against the crackdown, but for the continued recognition of the uniqueness of Hong Kong and of the basic freedoms that Hong Kongers continue to enjoy. Such freedoms are not easily won. People die fighting for them as they did in ’89. If Hong Kong is sleepwalking its way towards being “just another Chinese city“, events such as these are essential to remind people that rights are not a given, they must be fought over and protected at every step. Otherwise, they can all too easily be allowed to slide. When the alternative is quiet submission, the only choice is to get out and be heard.
Prints & Downloads: You can check out my Hong Kong People gallery in the galleries section.