Today (4 June 2021) marks the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Crackdown and the first time since the 1989 massacre that there will be no formal commemoration of the event held in the Chinese-speaking world.
In the People’s Republic of China, commemorating the violent events of 4 June – in which soldiers crushed student protests in Beijing killing, by some estimates, several thousands of people – has never been formally allowed.
However, just two years ago in Hong Kong, around 180,000 people attended the annual vigil. This year, nearly 7,000 police have been deployed in the city to enforce a ban on anniversary protests and Hong Kong’s vigil leader has been arrested.
Chow Hang Tung, a barrister, activist and vice-chairwoman of the group which organises the annual vigil, was arrested on Friday 4 June 2021.
Despite her arrest, Ms. Chow continued to call on residents to commemorate the anniversary in their own ways, saying:
“Turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your phone, candles or electronic candles,”
Similar to last year, authorities banned this year’s gathering on the premise of containing the coronavirus pandemic – despite the fact Hong Kong has not recorded a local transmission in more than a month. Last year, despite a similar ban, tens of thousands flocked to the vigil where they held candles aloft in socially distanced groups.
On the mainland, the event is officially censored; sensitive words, numbers, symbols and anything else that could be a reference to the event disappear online. Activists are sent on enforced holidays and security around the square is tightened.
These restrictions have now been expanded to Hong Kong, with the controversial national security law being imposed as added enforcement.
Despite thousands attending the vigil last year, 24 pro-democracy figures including Joshua Wong, Lee Cheuk Yan, and Albert Ho were later arrested, accused of organising an unauthorised assembly.
This year, they remain in jail and the alliance has publicly distanced itself from any potential gathering, and told the media there will be no online event.
Separate to the arrest of Ms. Chow police arrested a 20-year-old delivery man, identified only by his surname Cheung, “promoting and announcing unauthorised assembly” and a 65-year-old who paraded a yellow umbrella and a homemade cardboard sign saying “32, June 4, Tiananmen’s lament” – completely on her own.
The grim irony is that the Tiananmen Massacre was a gruesome crackdown on a pro-democracy movement. Today’s actions by China show how little progress has been made on this front.
As Louisa Linn writes for the Guardian:
“At Tiananmen vigils round the world last year, the events of Beijing 1989 and Hong Kong 2019 were yoked together. In Melbourne where I live, alternating footage from the two suppressions flickered across large outdoor screens to create a flashing montage of state violence”