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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.