Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Lighting Candles 25 Years On

The Goddess of Democracy before the vigil began
I just came back from the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Organizers say over 180,000 attended, while police say 99,500...

Unlike last year when we had a torrential downpour halfway through, tonight there were clear skies though quite hot and humid.

Makeshift memorial for Li Wangyang below
However, no one seemed to complain as they filed into the football pitches, the earliest ones coming at 5.30pm. YTSL, two other friends and I arrived after 6pm and sat pretty much in the same area as last year, to the right of the temporary memorial tombstone.

It also had a small picture of Li Wangyang the human rights activist who was found hanged in a hospital room and authorities claimed he had committed suicide. The Goddess of Democracy was also there, and she seemed to have welcomed the LGBT community with a rainbow tied around her wrist as well as a blue ribbon for press freedom and editor Kevin Lau Chun-to.

As a result this candlelight vigil gains more significance each year.

When it was finally 8pm participants were invited to light candles and begin the ceremony that included paying respects to the dead as many of their names were read out, laying a wreath at the makeshift tombstone and singing the same songs, over and over.

There was a recording from the Tiananmen Mothers, thanking us in Hong Kong for remembering the victims, as well as from several of the student leaders from 1989 such as Wang Dan, Wu'er Kaixi, Wang Juntao and Lv Jinghua.

Raising candles to remember the dead
Perhaps the surprise of the evening was seeing human rights lawyer Teng Biao come on stage to speak. He has defended the rights of HIV victims, Tibetan freedom fighters, signed Charter 08 and counselled blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng.

I thought someone like him would probably be under house arrest or whisked away by the authorities for an impromptu "holiday", but here he was in Hong Kong telling the crowd that the Chinese government continued its crackdown on dissidents and those who defended human rights.

"But as Hong Kong people say: 'You can't kill us all'," he chanted and the audience echoed Teng. He then urged people to join the Occupy Central movement in the pursuit of democratic reform. He became more worked up and emotional, probably because he was so thrilled to be able to say whatever he wanted in Hong Kong!

Teng later told local media he hoped one day the freedom to protest would happen in China, but that many human rights activists had sacrificed their lives to pursue this right.

He also added the authorities are not just cracking down on activists for stability, but cleansing as well, showing the deep insecurities of the government when it comes to its authoritarian grip over the country. "June 4 cannot be rehabilitated until China becomes a democracy," he said.

The last part of the ceremony became more political as Lee Cheuk-yan, organizer of the event and chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China gave a speech.

Organizers say over 180,000 attended tonight's vigil
He equated what the students did 25 years ago to the Occupy Central movement, and how Hong Kong people must stand up and defend the right to have a say in the process of determining what form universal suffrage will have in the city.

However will people turn up on July 1 to literally occupy the streets in Central will happen or not is another matter, but it seemed telling that as he was trying to rally people to show up less than a month from now, the crowds were dispersing the park.

For me today was also a reminder of what Tiananmen Square was like five years ago when I tried to mark the 20th anniversary. It was completely cordoned off and the public couldn't even cross the road to get to the square. Security was crawling everywhere so there wasn't anything we could do except stand there for a bit and then leave.

Today is also the first anniversary of my friend Diao Ying's death. I was thinking about how she diligently finished her work and then got home, climbed to the roof of the apartment building and jumped.

I still don't know exactly why she did that, but miss her terribly and can only hope that she is in a better place. 

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