For the first time in 33 years, no Tiananmen memorial mass will be celebrated in Hong Kong, a new sign of the loss of China’s former semi-autonomous territory in any remembrance of the crackdown on pro-democracy protested on June 4, 1989 in Beijing.
Since Beijing enacted a strong national security law in 2020 to end pro-democracy protests, traditional candlelight vigils, attended by thousands of people, have been banned by the town. The Tiananmen Museum was forced to close, and commemorative sculptures were not removed.
Annual Catholic services remain one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to gather in public to remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.
But this year, they were also canceled, the Church feared to worry the authorities.
“We are very difficult in the current social situation,” said Martin Ip, chaplain of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, one of the organizers.
“Our main objective is not to break the law,” he told AFP.
– “Lazy agent” –
In neighboring mainland China, where the communist regime never expressed remorse for the 1989 massacre, the subject was taboo.
But in the long run, in Hong Kong, this part of history can be taught in schools. Everything has changed since the entry into force in June 2020 of the national security law, intended to allow Beijing to print its authoritarian mark on the territory.
For thirty years, every year the now disbanded Hong Kong Alliance has held an annual vigil. He was charged with “incitement to subversion”, a violation of national security.
Police accused the Alliance of being a “foreign agent”, rhetoric echoing in Beijing that the Tiananmen protests were mobilized from the outside.
The June 4 Museum, which is managed by this Alliance, was forced to close its doors last year.
Others prefer to throw in the towel, not knowing where the red line is not to be crossed.
Six Hong Kong universities have been stripped of their campuses in honor of the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.
“Pillar of Shame”, a statue of Danish artist Jens Galschiot, was taken from the University of Hong Kong just before Christmas.
At Lingnan University, a mural by artist Chen Weiming was taken and stored in a room.
Her statue of the “Goddess of Democracy” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) was sent to an undisclosed “safe place”.
The universities admitted that they never consented to the presence of these acts, and that their removal was based on legal risks.
– “Freedom of speech” –
At the place where the goddess stood, only a small mark on her square pedestal remained.
As for the column, it was replaced by benches in the form of small stones and flowers.
“It reflects the fact that in a few years, no one will know what happened there,” sculptor Galschiot told AFP.
He tried to bring his sculpture back to Europe, but the university refused to use its teams to help him, and logistics companies did not dare to participate. They “said it was too complicated and dangerous,” the actor said.
For Chen Weiming, he is waging a legal war against CUHK. “They are trying to erase a shameful period in history where the state has committed crimes against its people,” the actor said angrily.
Earlier this year, the University of Hong Kong cemented a June 4 slogan painted on campus, saying it was “normal maintenance” of the area.
Of the city’s public libraries, 57 books in Tiananmen will no longer be borrowed, according to the Hong Kong Free Press count.
From now on, to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre, we will have to leave Hong Kong. Exile dissidents are creating their own museums in the United States, and activists plan to resurrect Taiwan’s “Pillar of Shame”.
“Finally, it’s not about June 4,” Galschiot analyzes.
“It’s about freedom to talk about what’s going on inside China, historically … the right to talk about what’s going on anywhere.”