- It has been 33 years since student-led movements calling for greater freedoms in China were violently suppressed
- Hong Kong was previously home to the largest vigil of remembrance of those killed in 1989 before the Chinese government banned the event using its national security law introduced in 2020
- Hundreds of pro-democracy activists based in Australia are set to remember the massacre by attending candlelit vigils
Hundreds of pro-democracy supporters are expected to attend candlelight vigils across major Australian capital cities on Saturday to mark 33 years since China’s deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Former Hong Kong legislator and pro-democracy activist Ted Hui, who now lives in exile in Australia, says vigils around the world will be held “in memory of the massacre and for the perished”.
In previous years, thousands of people used to gather in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to commemorate the massacre, but Hong Kong police have banned the annual event for a second consecutive year since the enactment of China’s national security law.
Former Hong Kong Politician Ted Hui speaking during a 2021 rally to show concern for the increasing Chinese influence in Australia. Source: AAP
The law carries a penalty of up to five years in jail for people who participate in unauthorised assemblies.
Mr Hui says he expects more Hong Kong people who have left the city since the introduction of the law to take part in smaller vigils around the world.
The main organiser and core members of the Victoria Park vigil are currently all in jail for participating and inciting others to attend past vigils.
“I expect that Hong Kongers [overseas] realise they are doing it for them. I expect more candlelight vigils and more participants among Hong Kongers,” Mr Hui said.
Mixed feelings about enjoying the freedoms in Australia
Kevin Yam, an activist and Australian-raised lawyer who spent 20 years working in Hong Kong before migrating back to Australia a month ago, says he plans to attend a Tiananmen vigil in Melbourne on Saturday.
He says it’s the first time he’ll be able to attend a Tiananmen vigil since it was banned in Hong Kong in 2020 on COVID-19 grounds and the introduction of the national security law.
Australian lawyer formally based in Hong Kong Kevin Yam to attend a vigil in Melbourne. Source: SBS
Mr Yam says he was involved in promoting and attending the Hong Kong vigil almost every year from 2003 before the event was banned.
“I campaigned for democracy there and to see it going where it has gone is not good,” he told SBS Chinese.
Mr Yam says he has “mixed feelings” being back in Australia after Hong Kong provided him with “everything” and now says he feels he has a sense of duty to attend a vigil in a show of solidarity with Hong Kongers.
Hong Kongers have carried this for the rest of China since 1989. Now, since 2019, diaspora Hong Kongers have a moral duty to carry the torch for Hong Kong and, more so, for China.
“The national security law has completely transformed Hong Kong. It’s now one of the most restricted places in Asia now,” he said.
Mr Yam says Australia has been witnessing a more assertive China trying to spread its authoritarianism across the Pacific over the last few years.
Iconic 'Tank man' photograph taken during 1989's Tiananmen Square protests. Source: AP Photo/Jeff Widener
“I think 1989 was a warning sign and it’s one that we should heed now more than ever before,” he said.
It is rare for Chinese government officials to acknowledge the events of June 4, 1989 as the protests remain one of the most highly censored topics in China.
In 2019, Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe said the state's bloody crackdown on the student protesters was the "correct action", one that Beijing said shortly after the "incident" resulted in 241 deaths.
“The central government took a resolute and decisive policy to stop this uprising ... Because of that decision, we secured stability in our country," the general said.
‘More Hong Kongers this year’
Mr Hui is anticipating at least 100 people will attend the vigil he has organised with other Hong Kong community leaders outside Adelaide’s Chinese Consulate on Saturday.
“I expect more people than last year because more [Hong Kong] people have migrated to Adelaide after the [enactment] of the national security laws and after the border was reopened,” Mr Hui said.
"We claimed in the past that Hong Kong was the only place in the land of China allowed to mourn those that perished on June 4. Those days are gone so we have moved it [vigils] overseas."
It’s about exercising our freedoms. This is our last freedom that we need to uphold.
Student protester confronting armored personnel carrier during pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Source: AP Photo/Jeff Widener
Besides himself, Mr Hui says mainland Chinese dissidents and Uyghur community leader, Ramila Chanisheff, will be among the speakers at the Adelaide vigil as well as local politicians “who saw the threat of China infiltrating and influencing Australia in a negative way”.
History books are now 'different' in Hong Kong
Jane Poon, leader of pro-democracy community group, Australia Hong Kong Link, and organiser of the vigil in Melbourne, will take to the steps of the State Library of Victoria late on Saturday afternoon.
SBS Chinese understands small vigils will be held across Melbourne including one in Argyle Place, Carlton, and another, consisting of a gathering of older Chinese migrants and asylum seekers and organised by the Proletariat Education on East-Asian Revolutions (PEER), at a separate location.
“It’s a memorial for the people who were killed at Tiananmen Square,” Ms Poon said, adding that the vigils were also in solidarity with Hong Kong.
Over 180,000 attended Hong Kong’s Tiananmen massacre vigil in 2019, according to organisers. Source: AP
Ms Poon, who left Hong Kong in 2017, says the Chinese government’s concerted recent efforts to erase the Tiananmen crackdown from the history books in Hong Kong have been successful but the atrocities of June 4, 1989 won’t be forgotten.
“The textbooks are quite different from what I studied when I was a teenager,” Ms Poon said.
She says Hong Kong scholars who have migrated to the United Kingdom and Canada have already started preserving history for the “next generation”
“We feel sad about this. That’s why overseas Hong Kong people are [actively] preserving the real history of China and Hong Kong,” Ms Poon said.
Former site of Hong Kong vigil 'booked out' on June 4
Football pitches at Victoria Park are reportedly all booked out for June 4, a day that for more than three decades was reserved for Hong Kong residents to publicly mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.
Mr Hui says that on Saturday night, residents will see six empty football pitches and be unable to stand on or get near to them.
Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, the traditional site for the city’s annual Tiananmen Square vigil, was empty for the first time last year as police blocked access. Source: AP
“It will look really bad for the Hong Kong regime,” he said. “It shows that the regime is very, very afraid of the people, afraid of oppositions, afraid of dissent.”
“It’s a total shame that this shows zero freedom now in Hong Kong.”
Ms Poon had previously warned against people publicly marking the occasion in Hong Kong.
“It’s high-risk. I do not encourage any Hong Kong people who remain in Hong Kong to do anything on the street on June 4,” she said.
The Chinese Embassy was contacted by SBS Chinese for comment but did not respond before deadline.