For the first time in 33 years, religious services commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown will not take place in Hong Kong, erasing one of the last reminders of China’s bloody crackdown on the 1989 protests.
Since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 to stifle pro-democracy protests, once-filled candlelight vigils have been banned, a Tiananmen Museum has been forced to close and statues have been pulled down.
The annual Catholic Masses were one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to come together publicly to remember the deadly crackdown in Beijing on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese government launched tanks and troops at peaceful protesters.
But this year, they were also canceled for fear of falling under the control of the Hong Kong authorities.
“We find it very difficult in the current social atmosphere,” said Reverend Martin Ip, chaplain of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, one of the organizers.
“Our goal is that we don’t want to break any laws in Hong Kong,” he told AFP.
The diocese, of which the Justice and Peace Commission was a co-organizer, said its frontline colleagues feared it would violate Hong Kong law.
Decades erased in months
Any discussion of the 1989 crackdown is virtually banned in mainland China.
But in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, her story was often taught in schools and the plea to end Chinese Communist Party rule was alive and well – until the imposition of the security law.
In the space of months, decades of commemoration have been wiped out as authorities wield the law to reshape Hong Kong in the authoritarian image of Beijing.
The Hong Kong Alliance, the most prominent Tiananmen advocacy group and organizer of the candlelight vigil, was sued as a “foreign agent” for inciting subversion.
Last September, its leaders were arrested, their June 4 museum was shut down after a police raid and digital records of the crackdown were deleted overnight following police orders to shut down the website and accounts. of the group’s social media.
For others, like the mass organizers, the uncertainty over the location of the new red lines was enough to set them back.
Six universities have removed June 4 monuments that have been on their campuses for years – just before Christmas last year, three were swept away within 48 hours.
The University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) ‘Pillar of Shame’, an eight-meter tall sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot, was dismantled, slid into a freight container and left on rural land owned by HKU.
At Lingnan University, a wall relief by artist Chen Weiming has been banished to an underground storage room.
Her ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue at the Chinese University of Hong Kong has been sent to a secret ‘safe place’.
“They are trying to erase a shameful episode in history when the state committed a crime against its people,” Chen told AFP.
The universities said they never consented to the presence of the statues and that their removal was based on an assessment of legal risk.
Where the goddess stood, only a faint mark of her square pedestal can now be seen.
The pillar has been replaced with a new seating area with pebble-shaped chairs and potted flowers.
“That’s the meaning… after a few years, nobody knows what happened there,” sculptor Galschiot told AFP.
He tried to bring the Pillar back to Europe, but the sensitivity is such that the university refused to lend him his crew and the logistics companies dared not interfere.
They say “it’s too complicated and it’s too dangerous,” Galschiot said.
The campaign to remove all traces of Tiananmen is ongoing – earlier this year, HKU cemented a painted June 4 slogan on campus and called it “regular maintenance”.
In the city’s public libraries, 57 Tiananmen books are barred from general borrowers, nearly double since local media Hong Kong Free Press counted last November.
Instead, the space to remember the crackdown now lies outside of Hong Kong, with exiled dissidents setting up their own museums in the United States and activists planning to resurrect the Pillar of Shame in Taiwan.
On June 4, vigils will be held around the world, with rights group Amnesty International coordinating candlelight vigils in 20 cities “to demand justice and show solidarity with Hong Kong”.
Tiananmen survivor Zhou Fengsuo, who lives in the United States, told AFP that in recent years he has seen more people joining such events in the West, including young Hong Kongers who recently emigrated.
“I am grateful that Hong Kong has carried the torch of Tiananmen commemoration for the past 30 years,” Zhou said.
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