HONG KONG • Police fired pepper spray yesterday at Hong Kong protesters who were defying a ban to stage candlelit rallies in memory of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy crackdown while accusing Beijing of stifling their freedoms too.
The scuffles broke out in the working-class Mong Kok district when demonstrators tried to set up roadblocks with metal barriers and officers used spray to disperse them, according to Reuters witnesses. Some demonstrators were arrested. It was the first time there had been unrest during the annual Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong, which police had banned this year citing the coronavirus crisis.
Several thousand people joined the main rally in Victoria Park, chanting slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” and “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”.
“I don’t believe it’s because of the pandemic. I think it’s political suppression,” a 53-year-old man surnamed Wong said, after kneeling by the park barricades to pay respects to the dead. “I do worry that we may lose this vigil forever.”
“We are just remembering those who died on June 4, the students who were killed. What have we done wrong? For 30 years we have come here peacefully and reasonably, once it’s over it’s ‘sayonara’ (goodbye),” said Ms Kitty, a 70-year-old housewife.
Elsewhere around the city, Hong Kongers took to the streets and also lit candles in other peaceful rallies.
People were also encouraged to mark the day on social media with the hashtag #6431truth, referencing the 31st anniversary along with the date.
Separately, thousands of civilians gathered in Taipei for a candlelight vigil in front of the city’s Liberty Square to commemorate the anniversary.
Hong Kong dissident bookseller Lam Wing Kee and Hong Kong lyricist Albert Leung were both present at the Taipei vigil, holding candles and listening to the organisers lead the crowd in chanting slogans used in the 2019 protests in Hong Kong.
“I don’t necessarily agree with all the slogans… but at least I can voice my disagreement here without getting silenced by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Mr Leung.
President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post that she hopes “history can be remembered in every corner of the world”.
DAY OF REMEMBRANCE
We are just remembering those who died on June 4, the students who were killed. What have we done wrong? For 30 years we have come here peacefully and reasonably, once it’s over it’s ‘sayonara’ (goodbye).
MS KITTY, a 70-year-old housewife, on attending last night’s event marking the Tiananmen incident.
• April 17, 1989: Protests begin at Tiananmen Square, with students calling for democracy and reform. Up to 100,000 people gather.
• April 24: Beijing students begin classroom strike.
• April 27: Around 50,000 students defy the authorities and march to Tiananmen. Supporting crowds number up to one million.
• May 2: In Shanghai, 10,000 protesters march on city government headquarters.
• May 4: Further mass protests coinciding with the anniversary of the May 4 Movement of 1919, which was another student and intellectual-led movement for reform.
• May 13: Hundreds of students begin a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square.
• May 19: Party chief Zhao Ziyang visits students in Tiananmen Square, accompanied by then Premier Li Peng and future premier Wen Jiabao. Mr Zhao pleads with the students to leave, but is ignored. He is later purged.
• May 20: Mr Li declares martial law in parts of Beijing.
• May 30: Students unveil 10m-high Goddess of Democracy, modelled on the Statue of Liberty.
• June 3: Citizens repel a charge towards Tiananmen by thousands of soldiers. Tear gas and bullets are used.
• June 4: In the early hours, tanks and armoured personnel carriers begin their attack on the square, clearing it by dawn. About four hours later, troops fire on unarmed civilians at the edge of the square.
• June 5: An unidentified Chinese man stands in front of a tank convoy leaving the square. The image spreads around the world as a symbol of defiance.
• June 6: Chinese State Council spokesman Yuan Mu says the known death toll is about 300, mostly soldiers, with only 23 students confirmed killed. China has never provided a full death toll, but rights groups and witnesses say it could run into the thousands.
• June 9: Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping praises military officers, and blames the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the party.
She posted a photo of a calendar page of the date June 4, saying that one day has been forgotten in China, leaving only 364 days every year. “I hope that in every corner of the world and on every piece of land, there will be no more days that disappear,” read Ms Tsai’s post.
The anniversary has struck an especially sensitive nerve in Hong Kong this year after China’s move last month to impose national security legislation and the passage of a Bill outlawing disrespect of China’s national anthem.
It also comes as Chinese media and some Beijing officials voice support for protests in the United States against police brutality.
The crackdown is not officially commemorated in mainland China, where the topic is taboo and discussion censored.
In Beijing, security around Tiananmen Square, a popular tourist attraction in the heart of the city, appeared to be tightened, with more police visible than on ordinary days. The European Union urged China to let people in both Hong Kong and Macau – another semi-autonomous city – mark the crackdown as a sign of guaranteeing freedoms. The US State Department said it mourned the Tiananmen victims and stood with freedom-loving Chinese.
China has never provided a full account of the 1989 violence.
The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of people may have perished.
There was no mention of the anniversary in Chinese state media.
But Mr Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, tweeted a screenshot of the United States’ statement with his own commentary. “The Tiananmen incident gave Chinese society a political vaccine shot, which has enabled us to be immune to any colour revolution. 31 years later, riots emerged and spread in the US. They only think of exporting it, but forget to prepare vaccine for themselves.”
Some students in Hong Kong yesterday followed the annual tradition of repainting a Tiananmen memorial message on a university campus bridge: “Souls of martyrs shall forever linger despite the brutal massacre. Spark of democracy shall forever glow for the demise of evil.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
• Additional reporting by Katherine Wei