Hong Kong’s vigil for democ­racy

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Vi­o­let Law Law is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong res­i­dents held vig­ils Thurs­day, as they do ev­ery June 4, to re­mem­ber China’s deadly 1989 crack­down on pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers in Bei­jing’s Tianan­men Square.

But this year, the gath­er­ings were less a mourn­ful rite and more an ef­fort to keep alive their own fight for rights.

This year’s an­niver­sary came just half a year af­ter the fad­ing of protests by the so-called Um­brella Move­ment, Hong Kong’s battle for demo­cratic rights. It also came less than two weeks be­fore the next round of protests, which are ex­pected when the lo­cal leg­is­la­ture seeks to adopt a new frame­work man­dated by Bei­jing for fu­ture elec­tions in the semi­au­tonomous ter­ri­tory.

Crit­ics say the pro­posal con­fers a sem­blance of de- mocracy but in fact lim­its the nom­i­na­tion sys­tem for Hong Kong’s high­est of­fice, sti­fling a real choice of can­di­dates.

“This is our only way to stand up to Bei­jing,” said Kather­ine Choi, 63, dressed in black. The re­tired teacher re­called com­ing to the first Tianan­men vigil when she was six months preg­nant and said she has been at­tend­ing ev­ery year since.

On June 4, 1989, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment de­ployed tanks and armed troops to crush the stu­dent-led demon­stra­tions in Tianan­men Square, killing hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, of pro­test­ers.

In the years since, even as Bei­jing has sought to erase all mem­ory of the event, the crack­down has been marked an­nu­ally in Hong Kong with marches and can­dle­light vig­ils, which have con­tin­ued even af­ter the for­mer Bri­tish colony re­verted to Chi­nese sovereignty 18 years ago.

De­spite a few other splin­ter gath­er­ings across the city, the vigil in Vic­to­ria Park still had a sub­stan­tial show­ing at 135,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­niz­ers, the Hong Kong Al­liance in Sup­port of Pa­tri­otic Demo­cratic Move­ments. It was the low­est turnout in the last sev­eral years.

Par­tic­i­pants filled six soc­cer fields and be­yond, bear­ing a sea of flick­er­ing vo­tive can­dles with a scat­ter­ing of yel­low um­brel­las, the sym­bol of 10-week-long prodemoc­racy demon­stra­tions last fall and win­ter.

Thurs­day’s gath­er­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong drew about 2,000 peo­ple, over­flow­ing the Sun Yat-sen plaza, named af­ter the found­ing fa­ther of mod­ern China who was an alum­nus. The crowd of mostly young peo­ple said they came be­cause they were tired of the rit­u­al­is­tic slo­gan-chant­ing and song-belt­ing at the tra­di­tional vigil.

“We need more in­spi­ra­tion and less cer­e­mo­nial stuff,” said Hayes Luk, 24, a mas­ter’s de­gree can­di­date in biotech­nol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong who went to his first vigil at age 6.

Jackie Zhang, a ju­nior who hails from cen­tral China, said his par­ents par­tic­i­pated in the Tianan­men protests but have since be­come cowed by the reper­cus­sions they suf­fered.

How­ever, for Zhang and all those on cam­pus Thurs­day night, the gath­er­ing wasn’t so much about re­mem­ber­ing Tianan­men as it was about rec­og­niz­ing the ex­am­ple it rep­re­sents for those push­ing for democ­racy in Hong Kong to­day.

“The stu­dents who per­ished made a tremen­dous show of moral courage. How much are we ready to sac­ri­fice for democ­racy?” asked Billy Fung, pres­i­dent of the uni­ver­sity’s stu­dent union and the gath­er­ing’s or­ga­nizer. “If we’re to fight for democ­racy un­der a dic­ta­tor­ship, we must be pre­pared to take more rig­or­ous ac­tion.”

Dale De La Rey AFP/Getty Images

IN HONG KONG, a can­dle­light vigil com­mem­o­rates pro-democ­racy demon­stra­tors killed in China’s June 4, 1989, crack­down in Tianan­men Square. This year’s event is also a re­minder of Hong Kong’s fight for rights.

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