Hong Kong’s young find new meaning in Tiananmen vigil

Jun 4, 2015, 6:06 AM

A statue of the Goddess of Democracy is displayed in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 4, 2015. There are p...

A statue of the Goddess of Democracy is displayed in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 4, 2015. There are plans to hold a candlelight vigil Thursday night in Hong Kong to mark the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square protests, an annual event that takes on greater meaning for the city's young after last autumn's pro-democracy demonstrations sharpened their sense of unease with Beijing. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG (AP) — Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers joined a candlelight vigil Thursday night marking the crushing of the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square protests, an annual commemoration that takes on greater meaning for the city’s young after last autumn’s pro-democracy demonstrations sharpened their sense of unease with Beijing.

For the first time in the vigil’s quarter-century history, some student groups didn’t take part and instead held their own memorials, a sign of an emerging rift between young and old over Hong Kong identity that took root during the Occupy Central protests.

The vigil is the only large-scale public commemoration of the victims on Chinese soil, and the Tiananmen events remain a taboo topic on the mainland. Hundreds and possibly thousands of unarmed protesters and onlookers were killed when tanks and soldiers entered central Beijing on June 3-4, 1989, to put down the student-led protests.

“June 4 and Occupy Central are very similar,” said Otto Ng, a 19-year-old student who planned to attend the vigil for the first time. Ng said he hadn’t known much about the events in Tiananmen Square but tried to learn more after last year’s Hong Kong protests erupted.

In both cases, “we are all students, and we are pushing for democracy and freedom,” he said.

Eva Leung, 16, also attended the commemoration for the first time Thursday.

“This evening’s vigil adds to our desire to have a genuine democratic system,” she said. Because of the Occupy Central protests, “I came to know what democracy is, and what was happening in Hong Kong. And it made me come to this evening’s vigil.”

Political tensions threaten to reignite in Hong Kong over the government’s plan to submit its electoral reform package for lawmaker approval later this month, including Beijing’s demand that it screen candidates in future elections for top leader. Local news reports say more than 7,000 police will be deployed to deal with protests ahead of the vote.

Each year, Hong Kongers gather in Victoria Park, holding candles aloft and calling for the Chinese government to overturn its stance that the Tiananmen Square protests were a counterrevolutionary riot. The vigil, which drew an estimated 180,000 last year, features a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that protesters erected in Beijing.

Vigil leaders laid a wreath at a makeshift memorial in the middle of the crowd as the names of Tiananmen victims were read out. Everyone, including the crowd, then bowed three times. The leaders then led the crowd in observing a minute of silence.

Organizers planned this year to show videos about Occupy Central and speakers were to talk about mainland activists detained for voicing support. Hong Kong became a part of China in 1997 after a century and a half as a British colony but maintains freedom of speech and other civil liberties not seen on the mainland.

Three university student groups, however, opted out of the vigil because of a disagreement over the need to build a democratic China, a guiding principle of the vigil’s organizer, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. The group was originally established to support the students protesting in Beijing.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, a coalition of the city’s universities that was one of the driving forces behind the Occupy protests, also opted not to take part. The group has been hit by turmoil over its leadership during the protests, and this year half of its eight university group members voted to leave.

Elsewhere, radical “localist” group Civic Passion, known for its confrontational stance, planned to burn a Chinese Communist flag at its own rally.

Billy Fung, president of Hong Kong University’s student union, which was holding its own event on campus, said the group wants to focus on establishing genuine democracy in Hong Kong first.

“If we just go for one night every year to attend the vigil and chant about building a democratic China, then what you’re doing is just verbally supporting a cause, and you won’t help build a democratic China,” said Fung.

The Hong Kong protests reinforced the sense of a separate Hong Kong identity for young people, who he said now “will question if it is their responsibility to help establish the development of Chinese democracy.”

However, lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who is secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance, said it’s impossible to keep it a separate issue.

“We must change China before China changes us,” he said.


Follow Kelvin Chan on Twitter at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

World News

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who reportedly died in prison on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, i...

Associated Press

Alexei Navalny, galvanizing opposition leader and Putin’s fiercest foe, died in prison, Russia says

Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died Friday while incarcerated, the country's prison agency said.

10 days ago

Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla leave The London Clinic in central London, Monday, Jan...

Associated Press

Britain’s King Charles III has cancer and is receiving treatment

Britain's King Charles III has been diagnosed with a form of cancer and has begun treatment, Buckingham Palace announced Monday.

21 days ago

A resident flees an encroaching forest fire in Vina del Mar, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Officia...

Associated Press

At least 46 reported dead in Chile as forest fires move into densely populated central areas

Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have caused at least 46 deaths, Chile's pesident said Saturday.

23 days ago

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with a payload including two lunar rovers from Japan and the United Arab ...

Associated Press

Unmanned Japanese spacecraft successfully makes soft landing on moon

Japan became the fifth country in history to reach the moon when one of its unmanned spacecrafts successfully landed on the lunar surface.

1 month ago

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

3 months ago

Palestinians leave their homes following Israeli bombardment on Gaza City, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (...

Associated Press

Israeli airstrikes crush apartments in Gaza refugee camp, as ground troops battle Hamas militants

A flurry of Israeli airstrikes Tuesday on a refugee camp near Gaza City leveled apartment buildings, leaving craters where they once stood.

4 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Hong Kong’s young find new meaning in Tiananmen vigil