BY ALICE ZHAO
Candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. (Photo: Alice Zhao)
HONG KONG – For the first time in his life, Alex Wu, a mainland student studying in Hong Kong, joined a public event to mourn the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square 23 years ago, together with 180,000 others in China’s last Mecca for freedom of speech in Victoria Park’s candlelight vigil Monday night.
According to organizer Hong Kong Alliance, a record turnout of 180,000 attended the vigil. The crowds occupied six soccer fields, basketball courts and grass areas, waving candles as the speeches and songs from the stage going on. Thousands more stood outside the off-roped park.
Fang Zheng, activist survived the crackdown in 1989 but lost his legs as the tank crushed over, appeared in wheelchair. Fang said he was so glad Hong Kong citizen are striving for freedom while the central government adopted the high-pressure policy in the mainland.
Student leader Wang Dan in 1989’s demonstration told the audience from a recorded message that she believes Hong Kong people’s insistence will one day pay off as the Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed after years of struggle.
There was also voice from the Tiananmen Mothers Group sending gratitude for Hong Kong’s efforts to speak for the murdered, poisoned and expelled.
China doesn’t allow mainland events to commemorate the crackdown, even words like “1989“, “candlelight” remain taboo on the Internet for the particular time.
Wu went to Victoria Park with seven of his mainland friends, arriving early to secure the first row near the stage. They sat, stood, and clapped as they mourned, sang and shout for democracy for China.
Wu accumulated his “limited knowledge” over the Tiananmen crackdown by talking with friends, and sometimes breaking off the Great Fire Wall browsing information he may not access otherwise.
“I know such a thing happened, and the government hid a lot of facts,” Wu said that is all he knows about the June Fourth Incident, as it is sometimes whispered referred in the mainland.
Wu said the crackdown might help to gain the stability for the government at a particular time, but it nearly destroyed the hope of citizen society in China. “After that mainland Chinese just joined the silent majority with a sense of cynicism, indifferent to politics,” said Wu.
“I was profoundly touched. I’m sure they already knew most of the background stuff, but they actually bothered to join in still to get the ‘feel’,” said Hong Kong journalist and politician Claudia Bowring. Bowring witnessed the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square as the Beijing correspondent for Agence France-Presse in 1989.
A former reporter with a Chinese stated-owned newspaper at site when the crackdown happened, now a lecturer in a Hong Kong university, suggested students from the mainland to grasp the chance of living in Hong Kong to read more about different descriptions of the incident.
“It was such a complicated incident, students should read comprehensively, think critically, and observe by themselves to understand the incident,” said the lecturer. He listed memoirs by Li Peng(who used his authority as Premier to declare martial law after students demonstration in 1989), Zhao Ziyang( President of China in 1989 , who later was purged politically and placed under house arrest for the next 15 years), as wells as the books by expelled students leaders and activists.
Coming back from the vigil, Wu tried to share the Hong Kong spirit with friends in the mainland through Sina Weibo, a popular social network in China similar to Twitter. A picture with a T-shirt printing “Not willing to remember, not daring to forget” was soon blocked by the system.
“Sina Weibo and Renren has a severe restriction about ‘Tiananmen incident’ this year, even if I told the fact that I was born in 1989, 23 years old,” said Wu.