(Photo by Joanne Lee-Young)
During my four years as the Globe’s Beijing correspondent, I always tried to attend the emotional, annual gathering in Hong Kong’s vast, central Victoria Park to mark the June 4 anniversary of the PLA’s deadly, armed assault against unarmed, pro-democracy student protesters at Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. It was a cold-blooded, mass killing, and each year, tens of thousands turn out to mourn and remember, just across China’s border in Hong Kong. What always moved me, beyond the event, itself, were those who came. They were not the activists. They were the ordinary people of Hong Kong – businessmen coming off shift, still in their suits; students holding hands; families, from grandparents to toddlers; workers in their undershirts; pensioners.
While the rest of the world seems to have moved on, perhaps falling under the spell of the collective amnesia China’s Communist Party leaders have imposed on their own people, few in Hong Kong have forgotten, and they want China to know that. Every year, pundits would predict a low turnout, and every year, the people came out, even — one year I was there — in a total monsoon of a downpour, huddled together under umbrellas, carefully protecting the flickering flames of their candles from the deluge. There were still more than 20,000 crowding the park that year. It’s as if there is this collective refusal to not let China think the passage of years has diminished their remembrance of what happened that terrible June night. The sentiment seems to be: “If we don’t show up, China will think we don’t care any more, and we can’t let that happen.”
Since the 1997 Hong Kong handover, of course, the June 4 gatherings have taken on an even more delicious significance, since they now occur on Chinese soil. Whiles mothers of some of the young students killed by the PLA are put under house arrest by the great powerful authorities back in mainland China, and even use of the search terms “open fire” and “25 years” are banned from the Internet by a country that aspires to world prominence, Chinese leaders must watch in anxious frustration every year as the people of Hong Kong defy their attempts to control all thought under the flag of the world’s last empire.
This year, on the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, one of the largest crowds ever funnelled into the park, estimated by police at more than 95,000 people. My friend Joanne Lee-Young was there, as she is every year with her young daughters. She took the photo at the top. Joanne reports how moved she was to hear the names of those young people whose lives were cut short read out to the massive crowd. “Their names, their ages, how they died – shot two times in the chest at the corner of XX and XX…found at XX hospital….” said Joanne.
Meanwhile, if Stephen Harper, or any other Western leader, has said a word about the 25th anniversary, I must have missed it. But man, that Putin is one bad dude….
Long live the people of Hong Kong.