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Hong Kong Memorial Museum Reopens Ahead of 30th Anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre

"In Hong Kong, we still have room for freedom of expression. Thus, we bear a greater responsibility to preserve history," it said

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The entrance to Hong Kong's June 4 Memorial Museum is shown in an April 26, 2019 photo. RFA

A Hong Kong museum commemorating the 1989 student-led democracy movement in China and the subsequent massacre of unarmed civilians by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Beijing three decades ago has reopened “against all odds,” despite being repeatedly forced to relocate amid growing political pressure.

Now located in Kowloon’s working-class district of Mong Kok, the June 4 Memorial Museum was forced out of its previous premises following a lengthy legal dispute with the building’s landlords, which the organizers believe was politically motivated.

“In China, the Communist Party attempts to erase people’s memory of this historical event and bans any discussion,” museum organizers Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said in a statement at the reopening.

“In Hong Kong, we still have room for freedom of expression. Thus, we bear a greater responsibility to preserve history,” it said.

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“In Hong Kong, we still have room for freedom of expression. Thus, we bear a greater responsibility to preserve history,” it said. RFA

Since the massacre of civilians with machine guns and tanks began 30 years ago on the night of June 3, 1989, the Alliance has campaigned for a reappraisal of the ruling Communist Party’s verdict of “counterrevolutionary rebellion,” which the Chinese leadership under late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping used to justify the bloodshed.

Hong Kong is the only Chinese city that still holds regular memorial events for the victims of the massacre, including the Alliance’s mass candlelight vigil in downtown Victoria Park.

“Against all odds, Hong Kong Alliance is now reopening the June 4th Museum ,the only place in China where the truth about June 4 can be told,” the Museum announced on April 30, the anniversary of a key editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper branding the movement “counterrevolutionary” and paving the way for the fall of liberal premier Zhao Ziyang.

“Only by telling the truth, protecting memory, learning from history, distinguishing between right and wrong, and upholding justice can such a criminal tragedy be prevented from happening again,” it said.

The new museum features a clock at the entrance showing the number of years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds since the massacre began.

‘Preserve the truth’

Hong Kong lawmaker and rights lawyer Albert Ho, who heads the Alliance, said the museum represents hope for the future.

hong kong museum
Hong Kong is the only Chinese city that still holds regular memorial events for the victims of the massacre, including the Alliance’s mass candlelight vigil in downtown Victoria Park. Pixabay

“The most important aim is to preserve the truth, and to continue to speak that truth to power,” Ho told RFA. “The entire museum is organized around three key themes: the first is memory, we absolutely will not forget.”

“History can only be shown respect through accurate remembering, which brings hope for the future,” he said. “The second part is about justice, which we are continuing to fight for, and the apportioning of responsibility.”

“The third is the future,” he said. “We can only achieve a bright future through the study of history.” Hong Kong resident Cheung Wing-fai, who took part in the 1989 student movement, said the museum also wants to ensure that the next generation of Chinese people and non-Chinese people know about the Tiananmen massacre.

“I think I have to stand up for what I believe in, so I will find as much time as I can to do that,” Cheung said. “Thirty years ago, I led my students to the demonstrations, but now they are all adults with jobs and families.”

“I will tell them that the museum is now open, so they can bring their sons and daughters here if they want to do that,” he said. “They may not have the same views, but at least they have that option.” “That’s the whole point of this museum,” Cheung said.

Calls for democracy

The student-led protests in the spring and early summer of 1989 brought central Beijing to a standstill, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to call for greater democracy and an end to official corruption.

Organizers have previously said they suspect that Beijing may be behind a series of complaints and disputes against the museum, where landlords have accused it of breaching zoning regulations, and local residents have complained about the potential disturbance from visitors.

The museum drew more than 20,000 visitors in the first two years of its existence, with its first opening marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre. Around half of its visitors come from mainland China, which has erased references to the bloodshed from official accounts and bans public debate or memorials for victims.

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The new museum features a clock at the entrance showing the number of years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds since the massacre began. Pixabay

The museum’s exhibits include photographs of the protests and massacre, touching mementos saved from the scene, and a two-meter replica of the towering Goddess of Democracy statue that featured in the protests.

Broken promises

Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms and separate legal jurisdiction for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” pledge from Beijing.

But there are signs that those freedoms may already be eroding, following the imprisonment of former participants in Hong Kong’s 2014 democracy movement and the removal of six opposition lawmakers from the city’s Legislative Council.

ALSO READ: China Still Relying on Spying on Others to Steal Latest Military Technology: Pentagon

Last weekend, more than 100,000 people protested over planned legislative amendments which will allow the rendition of criminal suspects requested by mainland China in the absence of an extradition agreement.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms of the press and of speech and association, as well as an independent judiciary and separate legal system, a framework that has sheltered peaceful critics of Beijing until now. (RFA)

Reported by Lee Wang-yam for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Next Story

China Charges Rights Activist Li Xiaoling Over Tiananmen Massacre T-Shirt and Friends Who ‘Sheltered’ Her

Li Xiaoling will stand trial on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," after she wore a T-shirt with a commemorative slogan on Tiananmen Square last year

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Rights Activist Li Xiaoling
Li Xiaoling in an undated photo. RFA
  • Li was transferred to the Xicheng Detention Center in Guangdong’s Zhuhai city after she complained about her treatment at the hands of police
  • She is being held without access to daily exercise, and is unable to buy food or daily necessities such as medicines via an internal account
  • Li was ordered to leave Beijing, but said in an interview at the time that she hadn’t broken any laws

June 12, 2017: A rights activist who publicly commemorated the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student movement last year is being mistreated in detention as she awaits trial on public order charges, her lawyer told RFA on Friday.

Li Xiaoling will stand trial on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” after she wore a T-shirt with a commemorative slogan on Tiananmen Square last year, her lawyer Lin Qilei said after visiting her in detention on Thursday.

Li was transferred to the Xicheng Detention Center in Guangdong’s Zhuhai city after she complained about her treatment at the hands of police, Lin said.

Now, she is being held without access to daily exercise, and is unable to buy food or daily necessities such as medicines via an internal account, as other prisoners are, he said.

“I met with Li Xiaoling inside the Xicheng Detention Center on Wednesday,” Lin said. “She seemed pretty exhausted, and there was clearly something wrong with her eyes.”

“She said she needs eyedrops three times a day, and that her eyes are very painful right now.”

Fellow activists Zhou Li, Li Xuehui, Kuang Jianhu, Zhao Chunhong, Bu Yongzhu, Liang Yankui and Zhao Xin were also being held under criminal detention on the same charges, for similar activities last June, their lawyers said.

Kuang’s lawyer Shang Baojun said he had also visited his client on Wednesday.

“I asked Kuang Jianhu [what the charges were for] … and he said it was because they had allowed Li Xiaoling to stay over one night in their home, which had implicated him,” Shang said. “The police didn’t want to ask him about anything else.”

“[Kuang’s girlfriend] Zhou Li was detained first, and then they went for him,” he said.

Shang said Kuang didn’t appear to have broken any law, and called for his immediate release.

Zhou was also able to meet with her lawyer Ma Guangquan on Wednesday.

“Zhou Li seemed pretty chipper, and told me she is fine,” Ma said. “The police had told her she is under criminal detention for providing Li Xiaoling with a place to stay.”

“Quite a few people have gotten involved in this case, which is like other, similar, sensitive cases,” Ma said. “I don’t think they’ll be releasing them anytime soon.”

Meanwhile, Li Xuehui’s lawyer Ding Xikui said it is still unclear whether his client’s detention is linked to Li Xiaoling’s protest.

Zhou Jie, a friend of the detainees, said he isn’t ruling out a forthcoming trial.

“These out-of-town lawyers charge pretty high fees, and we’re going to have to find the money for 16 lawyers,” Zhou said. “We are talking about around 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,471) in total.”

“But the most important thing is to have these lawyers meet with them,” Zhou said.

Sources said Bu Yongzhu and Liang Yankui have yet to hire defense attorneys, however.

ALSO READ: China Extends Ban on“extreme” Islamic names for Ethnic Uyghur babies Under 16

Massacre anniversary

Li was among a group of activists that included Beijing-based Qi Zhiyong, who was maimed when a tank ran over his legs on the night of June 3, 1989 in Beijing, along with Dalian-based Jiang Jianjun and Shandong-based Wang Fulei.

The group had taken photos of themselves wearing T-shirts and holding placards as an act of protest ahead of the 27th anniversary of the massacre last June.

The T-shirts bore the words “June 4th. Never Forget”, and state security police quickly launched a probe into the photographs.

Li was ordered to leave Beijing, but said in an interview at the time that she hadn’t broken any laws.

The protest came as a group of activists posted photos of themselves online also wearing T-shirts commemorating the bloodshed, which came when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops cleared Beijing of thousands of protesters calling for democracy who had camped for weeks in on Tiananmen Square.

Guangdong activist Bu Yongzhu said at the time that younger people in China must get past the “Great Firewall” of Internet censorship to find out about the events of 1989, and that he acted out of concern that they would forget, or never learn, what really happened.

The administration of President Xi Jinping has broadened government control over freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and the right to political participation, continuing a trend set in place after the 1989 crackdown, and detaining hundreds of activists in recent years, rights groups say.

The Tiananmen massacre was precipitated by the peaceful gatherings of students, workers, and others in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other cities in April 1989 calling for freedom of expression, accountability, and an end to corruption, but the government responded by instituting martial law, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report issued on last year’s anniversary.

The number of deaths in the violence remains unknown, although the victims’ group the Tiananmen Mothers have compiled exact accounts of the deaths of 202 people across China, including Beijing. (RFA)