Last Saturday, June 4, was the anniversary of the tragedy that took place in Beijing, China in 1989. In Hong Kong, this tragedy is commemorated every year with a huge outdoor rally that often attracts over 100,000 people. This year was a little different because a public dispute broke out before the event, when several students associations publicly announced they would stay away from the rally because they didn’t feel it was relevant to Hong Kong anymore.
According to these groups, it was futile rallying to remember the 1989 tragedy and advocating for democracy in China, which is one of the main goals of the June 4 rally organizers, because it had nothing to do with Hong Kong. It would be better to fight for Hong Kong’s goals such as autonomy, a sentiment that is line with a growing “localization” feeling that has manifested in political parties agitating for such goals. I sympathized with them and I understood some of their frustration, which I would also venture might be augmented by the fact some mainlanders, including people I know, didn’t support or empathize with Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement.
However, I still decided to go to the rally because it was my first time having the opportunity to attend it and I think it is worthwhile to commemorate the tragedy. I arrived right around the time it started, which meant having to first pass through shopping streets in Causeway Bay that had been turned into an activist zone with political groups lining both sides of the streets, then gather in an adjoining field rather than the main area at Victoria Park and watching the speakers on a giant screen.
It didn’t dull the effect as passionate speaker after speaker appeared, and videos of one of the Tiananmen victims’ mothers, the kidnapped Hong Kong booksellers and the rights lawyer crackdown in China players. The organizers also didn’t shy away from confronting the issue with the student groups. In the middle of the event, three speakers, an adult, a female university student and a male high-school student came on stage to give some youth perspectives. Battling away tears, the female student called out her university and said “the student body association doesn’t represent me!” and “you can talk about Hong Kong’s rights everyday but you can only mark June 4 on one day.” The adult talked about his university and that he had been the student body president, then denounced them for staying away from the rally.
The student bodies who stayed away held separate events on their campuses that marked the tragedy but mainly focused on Hong Kong-related issues. They got a decent turnout apparently. This split won’t end anytime soon.