HONG KONG - Tens of thousands of people lit candles in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Thursday night to mark the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in which a student-led pro-democracy demonstration ended in bloodshed.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, organizer of the candlelight vigil held annually since the 1989 massacre, said 135,000 people attended, a drop from the record 180,000 turnout last year.
Police put the figure at 46,600, much lower than last year’s 99,500.
“We are here tonight lighting up candles, awakening our conscience, flaring up our passion and (saying) ‘No!’ to the dictators,” alliance chairman Albert Ho said. “We must speak up for the people who live under the Communist Party’s (rule), to let them know they are not fighting for China’s democracy alone.”
Troops opened fire at the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in the late hours of June 3, 1989, to crush the weeks-long protest, killing hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed student protesters.
Beijing has treated the bloody crackdown as a taboo ever since.
“I come because China still has no democracy and June 4 has not been redressed,” said 17-year-old Grace Tsang, who was attending for the fourth year. “The June 4 incident is closely related to Hong Kong. There are so few places in the world where people can commemorate the victims every year, and that indicates Hong Kong still has freedom.”
Fellow schoolmate Krystal Wong, 16, said, “A democratic China is important because economic strength does not make the country strong, but it is the people’s trust.”
Retired chemistry teacher surnamed Lee, 55, said the massacre will be redressed eventually, but not in at least 50 years.
“But we must persevere, generation after generation,” he said. “China is such a big country, all changes take time.”
Wyman Wong, 12, said he came for the first time and wanted to know more about what happened.
In a prerecorded clip, then student leader Wang Chaohua, one of 21 “most wanted” Tiananmen Square protesters, said she is honored to see Hong Kong people commemorate those who lost their lives 26 years ago and stand together against totalitarian persecution.
“The young people had linked their future with China’s democratic future, but the Communist Party did not think that way. Instead, they sent in troops, tanks and machine guns and started shooting at the people,” Wang said.
The commemoration was marred by the absence of some of the younger generation who openly questioned Hong Kong’s role in helping build democracy in China.
Student unions of half of the territory’s eight universities declined to join the vigil or take part in a march held earlier this week. The Federation of Students, which led an occupation protest last year over Beijing’s meddling in Hong Kong politics, also for the first time dropped out from the annual events.
“Some people do not agree with the Alliance’s linking up commemorating victims of the June 4 (massacre) with building democracy in China,” Hong Kong University student union chairman Fung King-yan said after holding a separate June 4 commemoration at the university campus drawing some 2,000 students and members of the public.
Beijing has reiterated that a conclusion has been reached for what it called a “political glitch” and never admitted wrongdoing in the massacre as witnessed by the world. Instead, it insists the strong economic growth in the following decades is proof it chose the right path of development.