Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Tradition Continues

Over 15,000 lit candles in the hopes of democracy in China

Tonight was the first time I attended the June 4th vigil at Victoria Park. And I hope it will not be my last.

Paper cranes in front of a picture of Tiananmen Square
I went with some friends from Beijing who also wanted to experience it for themselves. We met up for an early dinner then headed to Causeway Bay after 6:30pm. St George Street was already blocked off for pedestrians and the road was lined with ad hoc stands asking people to support this group and that group related to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Some sold "Who is Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" T-shirts, gave away stickers calling for the redress of June 4, 1989 or literature related to the incident.

The crowd wound its way into Victoria Park with more stands, more bullhorns with people calling for attention to their cause, asking for donations. A few politicians were there including Emily Lau Wai-hing, waving to the incoming crowd.

Get your redress June 4 memorabilia
By the time we got onto the football pitches there was an hour to go and while we were far from the main stage, there was a giant screen ahead and we sat on the ground. On stage young people sang pro-democracy songs over and over again. We also got white candles and conical paper cups with their tips cut off to put the candle through (with a bit of ripping). We helped each other light our candles which was a nice community touch.

Finally it started with a giant stand with flowers placed in the front along with a giant lit torch. We all stood up and bowed three times, then three times again. Lee Cheuk-yan is the chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and took over after Szeto Wah. He gave a speech in an emotional voice, calling for everyone to remember this dark day in history and how 22 years later we are still calling for redress and waiting for democracy and human rights in China. Even though Uncle Wah is not here, Lee said, we will continue to remember in future generations what happened.

Interspersed were songs that were sung earlier and shouting out slogans calling for the redress of June 4, for human rights and democracy.

Messages urging for redress of June 4
We heard a taped speech by Ding Zilin, leader of the Tiananmen Mothers Support Group, saying how brave we were to come together and remember what happened on June 4. She also said how freedom of speech is deteriorating in China with the detainment of people like Ai Weiwei and imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo.

Wang Dan also gave a video recorded message in his office strangely dressed in a suit while the rest of us were sweating in T-shirts and shorts.

Hong Kong students went on stage and talked about how they are the same age as those idealistic students over 20 years ago. The main speaker talked about how they are told to love their country, but how can they when they see the repression in Inner Mongolia, the people being moved away in the Three Gorges Dam area, people committing suicide in factories in Shenzhen...

Quirky slogan: "Heaven Destroys CCP"
A video message came on and went through the history of New China or Xinhai, how it is 100 years old this year and highlighted the main historical events, stopping at 1989. Then it showed the faces of people who have sacrificed so much to speak out, such as Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo, Tan Zuoren, trying to find out how many died in the Sichuan earthquake, Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer who has still been disappeared, Zhao Lianhai, the tainted milk activist, Tian Xi, who has Aids and is trying to get justice for having infected blood... many people clapped in support when seeing their faces on the screen.

And finally Lee came back on stage again, repeating what he said earlier, but also added that while Hong Kong may not have democracy, it has freedom of speech. "Wen Jiabao, ni pa shenme?" Wen Jiabao, what are you afraid of? Many clapped again.

Messages calling for the remembrance of June 4, 1989
One of my friends took pictures on her phone and tried to put it up on her Sina Weibo microblog, but it was quickly deleted. "I didn't say anything," she said afterwards. "I just took a picture and then said 'we are all here together', and it was deleted. I even took a picture of my candle and that too was taken down."

I suggested that perhaps the censors were doubly on alert today.

Throughout the event the organizers gave updates on how many football pitches were filled up and eventually all six were and the grass areas were filled too. They added the police count was that there were some 150,000 people there tonight.

This year was particularly bittersweet, with the passing of Szeto in January and the unprecedented crackdowns due to fears of a Jasmine revolution (we were handed jasmine flowers), and the detainment of Ai and imprisonment of Liu which probably explained the large turnout.

It was wonderful seeing so many people, particularly young people who weren't even alive in 1989 at the event. They understand what happened thanks to their parents and media and are willing to come and commemorate the incident.

We inched our way out of the park and streets and grabbed yet another bite to eat. While eating and drinking we watched Li Na make history to win the French Open, beating Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (7-0).

Now the Chinese have something to celebrate about on June 4 than be afraid of...

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