HONG KONG – A planned museum dedicated to China’s brutal crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests has run into a legal challenge in Hong Kong that some say is motivated by Communist Party interests ahead of the event’s 25th anniversary.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, remains a freewheeling capitalist hub whose annual candlelight vigils every June 4 set it apart from mainland China, where all public commemorations of the anniversary are banned.
Discussion of the Tiananmen Square crackdown is still taboo in China, whose leaders ordered troops to open fire on demonstrators on June 3 and 4, 1989, and sent in tanks to crush a student-led campaign movement, killing hundreds.
Seventeen years after Hong Kong was handed back to China, a bid to establish the world’s first permanent museum dedicated to the crackdown, in a 75-sq.-meter, fifth-floor unit of a commercial tower, has run into opposition from the owners’ committee.
The row could escalate into a broader headache for Beijing amid rising resentment over its tightening control over Hong Kong’s affairs and calls for universal suffrage. The ability of Hong Kongers to debate the Tiananmen crackdown remains a potent symbol of its freedoms and civil liberties relative to the Communist Party’s tight grip on mainland China.
The museum, currently being renovated and scheduled to open in late April, will feature photographs, a goddess of democracy and other documentary materials chronicling the crackdown. The Tiananmen demonstrators built the Goddess of Democracy statue as a symbol of their struggle, and it has been replicated at Hong Kong’s annual June 4 commemorations.
But the owner’s committee of the Foo Hoo Center, where the museum would be based, voted last Wednesday to bar it from opening, claiming in a legal document that units in the building should only be used as office space. A vice chairman of the alliance behind the museum said 54 of 60 votes cast during last week’s owners’ committee meeting backed the legal challenge against the museum.
“We anticipate and have a real concern that your proposed use of the fifth floor will operate as a lightning rod and attract to the building and its vicinity an inordinate number of visitors, both supporters and detractors,” the letter, issued by solicitors representing the owners, stated.
One tenant, the Chiu Chau Plastic Manufacturers Association, voiced explicit opposition to the plan. The association’s current president, Lam Chun-hong, is a member of China’s top political consultative body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, in Yunnan province, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The association’s secretary general, Yeung Cho-ming, told the South China Morning Post that the museum was “definitely a political problem,” and added: “The (June 4 anniversary) is sensitive and contentious. We are afraid the museum will bring us trouble. Someone might protest here and affect our daily operations.”
The alliance organizing the museum stressed that the legal threat was being orchestrated by parties with loyalties to the Communist Party. “This is obviously a politically motivated lawsuit,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a local lawmaker and head of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organizes the city’s June 4 vigil each year.
“I don’t think any sensible person would use his own money to start a lawsuit, so there must be someone behind it. Of course, they (the building’s owners) would not divulge who is behind them” financially, Lee said.
The alliance bought the fifth floor of the office tower for $1.25 million in December, with a mission to preserve the memory of the Tiananmen Square protests and to seek redress and accountability from Communist Party leaders for those killed. Beijing maintains the 1989 uprising was a “counter-revolutionary event,” a claim protesters want overturned.
Despite fears the narrow building might be overrun with visitors, some tenants don’t see a problem.
“I don’t mind,” said Tong Chun-sing, who works for a design firm in the building. “It won’t affect our business.”