Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers held a candlelight vigil yesterday to commemorate victims of the Chinese government’s 1989 brutal military crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The annual evening vigil in Hong Kong is the only large-scale commemoration on Chinese territory of the Tiananmen bloodshed.
The organisers, an umbrella group of pro-democracy organisations, estimated that 110,000 people attended.
People held up their lit mobile phones – some with pictures of candles showing on the screen – as a band played upbeat songs to rally the crowd and activists gave speeches about the importance of getting young people to attend.
“I don’t want this part of history to become blurred,” said office worker Emily Yu, 42, who attended the gathering in Victoria Park.
“It was really a massacre of people. Those young people came out and did all they could for freedom and democracy but didn’t achieve it.”
Eloise Wu, 36, who works for a non-governmental organisation, said: “We don’t want to let people think we’ve forgotten, as if with the passing of time it’s like, ‘Oh, this never really happened.’ No. Every year we remember.”
Thousands of unarmed protesters and onlookers were killed late on 3 June and the early hours of 4 June, 1989 after China’s communist leaders ordered the military to retake Tiananmen Square from the student-led demonstrators.
Commemoration of the events, whether public or private, remains taboo in mainland China.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in posts on Facebook and Twitter that 28 years ago the actions of students and citizens who challenged the political system in China “inspired a generation”.
She appealed to Beijing to “face up to 4 June with an open mind” and said Taiwan was willing to share its experiences of transitioning to democracy in the late 1980s to ease the pains of such a transition in the mainland.
“For democracy: some are early, others are late, but we will all get there in the end,” Tsai wrote on Twitter.
While mainland Chinese are only dimly aware of what happened at Tiananmen Square, the subject is openly discussed in Taiwan.
Relations between Beijing and Taiwan have been near an all-time low since Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party has advocated for Taiwan’s formal independence, took over as president a year ago. Beijing has cut off contacts with Taiwan’s government and discouraged mainlanders from visiting the island.