How Not To Forget An Atrocity

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 5 2014 @ 1:29pm

Keating observes that China’s tightly enforced collective amnesia about Tiananmen Square doesn’t extend to Hong Kong:

In contrast to the tense silence on the mainland, the commemoration of Tiananmen was very much in evidence in Hong Kong, where as many as 150,000 people attended a candlelight vigil [yesterday].  … Hong Kong is currently undergoing the dual and seemingly contradictory processes of becoming more closely integrated with mainland China while theoretically transitioning toward having a fully elected democratic government. But China and Hong Kong together aren’t just “one country, two systems”—another favorite slogan—they seem to be one country with two memories, and two very different understandings of recent history.

In addition to the regularly scheduled vigil, Rachel Lu reports on a smaller, more politically charged event that also took place in the city yesterday:

The organizers of the new gathering — two groups called Civic Passion and the Proletariat Political Institute — claim to espouse a complete rejection of the Chinese Communist Party and its rule, rather than holding out hope for reconciliation, reform, or redress of past wrongs. The large banner hoisted on the stage read in Chinese: “Don’t Need [Chinese Government] to Redress June 4” and “Want the Demise of the Communist Regime.” The new gathering only turned out a small fraction of the attendance at its storied counterpart in Victoria Park. The organizers claimed more than 7,000 were present, but police estimated approximately 3,060.

Simon Denyer visits Hong Kong’s new Tiananmen Square museum:

In a tiny fifth floor room in an office building in Kowloon, Hong Kong, a museum was set up in April to commemorate the events of June 4, 1989, better known by some as “Tiananmen Square.” It has already already attracted about 6,000 visitors since it opened. Only a few dozen people can fit into the 800-square-foot exhibition space at a time, but by the end of Wednesday, about 400 visitors had come. Johnny Li, a 26-year-old staff member, said about 40 to 50 percent of visitors come from mainland China. “Some are surprised because they didn’t know the history of June 4, but some already know, and share and discuss with other people in the museum,” he said.

Simon Denyer points out that the anniversary comes at a time when Hong Kong’s ties to the mainland are severely strained:

Under the terms of the territory’s handover from British rule in 1997, China promised significant autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model. At the time, many here were happy to see the British go, but that sentiment has since gradually eroded. China has promised the territory universal suffrage and genuine democracy in 2017, when the job of chief executive, the most powerful political role in Hong Kong, next comes up for grabs.

But many here fear that Beijing will fix the contest, to ensure one of its local allies wins. There are also growing concerns that China is gradually diluting Hong Kong’s cherished civil liberties and media freedom, while a massive influx of tourists and immigrants from mainland China has caused growing local resentment. The resentment undermines any hope Beijing might have of persuading the people of Taiwan to ever join mainland China under a similar “one country, two systems” model, and it is a constant reminder of a democratic spirit among Chinese people that refuses to go away.