30 years After the Tiananmen Square “Incident”

The phrase “Tiananmen Square” is blocked in search engines in China. The date June 4 has become synonymous with “Sina Censor Day” as Beijing intensifies its censorship efforts to block its citizens from accessing information about the Tiananmen Square Massacre–a tragic day in 1989 in which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fired at peaceful demonstrators and innocent bystanders. To this day, Beijing tries to hide the truth: There was no massacre, just an “incident.” The death of thousands of citizen is not mentioned in any history books; the Great Firewall of China blocks any words or phrases associated with the event, and to this day, Beijing has never acknowledged, let alone apologized, for their brutal tactics in suppressing the amicable democracy- seeking protesters. Every year on June 4th, Beijing watches closely, ensuring no trouble could be stirred up within China. However, across the border in Hong Kong, thousands of people have gathered for a candlelight vigil every year since 1990 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the hands of the PLA.

Partial view of the crowd at the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre.

This year, for the first time (after living in Hong Kong for seven years), I finally attended my first vigil with my husband Derek. From our home in Wan Chai, we walked to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, which took us about 20 minutes. It was an incredibly humid night; my phone pinged with ceaseless thunderstorm warnings from the Hong Kong Observatory. It took us a while to get through the crowd to finally enter the park, but it was evident that despite the imminent bad weather, spirits were high. Thousands of Hong Kong people gathered for the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre and to protest against the proposed extradition legislation. If this legislation becomes law, it will be problematic as it could allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks a deal, including mainland China. Basically, Hong Kong people can be extradited to Mainland China to be prosecuted under Chinese law–a frightening thought indeed, especially for activists, journalists, and other vocal folks Beijing deems “criminal.”

The vigil was a humbling experience. On the surface, I blended in with the thousands of Hong Kong people around me, but as a Taiwanese Canadian living in Hong Kong, I am an outsider-insider. Though I didn’t understand many of the speeches in Cantonese or receive one of the white candles that the organizers were handing out, I was in awe. Looking at the serene faces lit by the soft glow of the burning wicks, I admire Hong Kong people’s resolute and determination to memorialize those who lost their lives on June 4, 1989. I respect their perseverance to defy Beijing by gathering each year, refusing to let go of the past. I feel a sense of affinity with the people of Hong Kong at the vigil and they gave me a little glimmer of hope: Perhaps with the international community watching, the Hong Kong people’s effort to preserve their autonomy will not be ignored. This leads to me think: Perhaps Taiwanese people can take a cue and organize a vigil next year in Taipei? A vigil not only to commemorate those who died but also as a gesture to show the international community that Taiwan is a democratic society, and should remain free of Beijing’s control.

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