HK youth find new mean­ing in Tianan­men vigil

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KELVIN CHAN

Tens of thou­sands of Hong Kongers joined a can­dle­light vigil Thurs­day night mark­ing the crush­ing of the 1989 stu­den­tled Tianan­men Square protests, an an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion that takes on greater mean­ing for the city’s young af­ter last au­tumn’s pro- democ­racy demon­stra­tions sharp­ened their sense of un­ease with Bei­jing.

For the first time in the vigil’s quar­ter- cen­tury his­tory, some stu­dent groups didn’t take part and in­stead held their own memo­ri­als, a sign of an emerg­ing rift be­tween young and old over Hong Kong iden­tity that took root dur­ing the Oc­cupy Cen­tral protests.

The vigil is the only largescale public com­mem­o­ra­tion of the vic­tims on Chi­nese soil, and the Tianan­men events re­main a taboo topic on the main­land. Hun­dreds and pos­si­bly thou­sands of un­armed pro­test­ers and on­look­ers were killed when tanks and sol­diers en­tered cen­tral Bei­jing on June 3-4, 1989, to put down the stu­dent-led protests.

“June 4 and Oc­cupy Cen­tral are very sim­i­lar,” said Otto Ng, a 19-year-old stu­dent who planned to at­tend the vigil for the first time. Ng said he hadn’t known much about the events in Tianan­men Square but tried to learn more af­ter last year’s Hong Kong protests erupted.

In both cases, “we are all stu­dents, and we are push­ing for democ­racy and free­dom,” he said.

Eva Le­ung, 16, also at­tended the com­mem­o­ra­tion for the first time Thurs­day.

“This evening’s vigil adds to our de­sire to have a gen­uine demo­cratic sys­tem,” she said. Be­cause of the Oc­cupy Cen­tral protests, “I came to know what democ­racy is, and what was hap­pen­ing in Hong Kong. And it made me come to this evening’s vigil.”

Po­lit­i­cal ten­sions threaten to reignite in Hong Kong over the gov­ern­ment’s plan to sub­mit its elec­toral re­form pack­age for law­maker ap­proval later this month, in­clud­ing Bei­jing’s de­mand that it screen can­di­dates in fu­ture elec­tions for top leader. Lo­cal news re­ports say more than 7,000 po­lice will be de­ployed to deal with protests ahead of the vote.

Each year, Hong Kongers gather in Vic­to­ria Park, hold- ing can­dles aloft and call­ing for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to over­turn its stance that the Tianan­men Square protests were a coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary riot. The vigil, which drew an es­ti­mated 180,000 last year, fea­tures a replica of the God­dess of Democ­racy statue that pro­test­ers erected in Bei­jing.

‘We must change China be­fore

China changes us’

Vigil lead­ers laid a wreath at a makeshift me­mo­rial in the mid­dle of the crowd as the names of Tianan­men vic­tims were read out. Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the crowd, then bowed three times. The lead­ers then led the crowd in ob­serv­ing a minute of si­lence.

Three uni­ver­sity stu­dent groups, how­ever, opted out of the vigil be­cause of a dis­agree­ment over the need to build a demo­cratic China, a guiding prin­ci­ple of the vigil’s or­ga­nizer, the Hong Kong Al­liance in Sup­port of Pa­tri­otic Demo­cratic Move­ments in China. The group was orig­i­nally es­tab­lished to sup­port the stu­dents protest­ing in Bei­jing.

The Hong Kong Fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dents, a coali­tion of the city’s uni­ver­si­ties that was one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the Oc­cupy protests, also opted not to take part. The group has been hit by tur­moil over its lead­er­ship dur­ing the protests, and this year half of its eight uni­ver­sity group mem­bers voted to leave.

Billy Fung, pres­i­dent of Hong Kong Uni­ver­sity’s stu­dent union, which was hold­ing its own event on cam­pus, said the group wants to fo­cus on es­tab­lish­ing gen­uine democ­racy in Hong Kong first.

“If we just go for one night ev­ery year to at­tend the vigil and chant about build­ing a demo­cratic China, then what you’re do­ing is just ver­bally sup­port­ing a cause, and you won’t help build a demo­cratic China,” said Fung.

The Hong Kong protests re- in­forced the sense of a sep­a­rate Hong Kong iden­tity for young peo­ple, who he said now “will ques­tion if it is their re­spon­si­bil­ity to help es­tab­lish the devel­op­ment of Chi­nese democ­racy.”

How­ever, l aw­maker Lee Cheuk-yan, who is sec­re­tary of the Hong Kong Al­liance, said it’s im­pos­si­ble to keep it a sep­a­rate is­sue.

“We must change China be­fore China changes us,” he said.

AP

(Top) Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple at­tend a can­dle­light vigil at Vic­to­ria Park in Hong Kong on Thurs­day, June 4, an an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion that takes on greater mean­ing for the city’s youth af­ter last au­tumn’s pro-democ­racy demon­stra­tions sharp­ened their sense of un­ease with Bei­jing. (Above) Peo­ple walk past the statue of the God­dess of Democ­racy and a ban­ner de­pict­ing Bei­jing’s Tianan­men Square, in Hong Kong, Thurs­day, June 4.

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