Without a vigil of their own, Hong Kongers join diaspora abroad to mark Tiananmen anniversary

China’s efforts to clamp down on candlelight vigils in Hong Kong to commemorate those who died in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, draw more supporters to smaller vigils overseas, including Australia.

Former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui at the Tiananmen vigil in Adelaide.

Former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui at the Tiananmen vigil in Adelaide. Source: SBS

Hong Kongers were banned from hosting an official memorial for the victims of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 for a third year on Saturday.

Local officials banned the vigils in 2020 and 2021, citing pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

Hong Kong police warned ahead of June 4 that any Tiananmen anniversary gatherings would break the law under the city's national security law imposed in 2020.
Pro-democracy supporters at the Tiananmen candlelight vigil in front of the State Library of Victoria.
Pro-democracy supporters at the Tiananmen candlelight vigil in front of the State Library of Victoria. Source: SBS/Tania Lee


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Jane Poon, head of Australia-Hong Kong Link, a community that supports democracy and rule of law in Hong Kong, said that the only large-scale memorial on Chinese-ruled soil is now part of history.

Ms Poon says she is now beginning to see more Hong Kongers participate in vigils overseas in places like Australia where people's attendance and voice are not restricted.

Vigil in Melbourne

Kevin Yam, Australian Hong Konger and former convener of a political organisation called The Progressive Lawyers in Hong Kong, was among 150 pro-democracy supporters who attended the vigil outside the State Library of Victoria on Saturday.  



He told gatherers in an impromptu speech that friends he used to have dinner with in Hong Kong are in jail or exiled due to their involvement with the city’s democracy movement.

“Friends that I used to meet regularly both for business or pleasure, they are now living a thousand miles away in the US, in the UK,” Mr Yam said.

“We are all separated by distance because of a regime that brooks no dissent.” 
Pro-democracy supporters hold up digital candles to commemorate Tiananmen victims and in solidarity with people in Hong Kong banned from attending vigils.
Pro-democracy supporters hold up digital candles to commemorate Tiananmen victims and in solidarity with people in Hong Kong banned from attending vigils. Source: SBS/Tania Lee


Mr Yam continued that over the 33 years since the June 4 massacre, a lot of people had hoped the bloodshed was a “small bump in road” towards greater reform, greater openness and greater democracy in China.

“This is not the case. What have we seen instead, we’ve seen in the last ten years, especially in the four or five years, is China going backwards. Hong Kong has gone backwards.

“So instead of just being a bump in the road towards greater openness, the event of 1989 has been a harbinger, a harbinger for a more authoritarian nastier China,” Mr Yam said.

Frank Ruan, former Tiananmen democracy movement participant and survivor now living in Melbourne, also spoke at the vigil and told the crowd that the Chinese Communist Party was attempting to control the world.

“This includes the Chinese community in Australia, and they are using any means possible to infiltrate (Australia).

As a person who lived through the period, we fought for China's democracy and freedom. We're still standing firm against the (Chinese) Communist Party today.

Members of the Uyghur community at Adelaide vigilImage

In a rain-soaked vigil outside the Chinese consulate in Adelaide, pro-democracy supporters, including members of the city’s Uyghur community, joined exiled Hong Kong politician Ted Hui in marking the anniversary.

Ramila Chanisheff of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women's Association in Adelaide said she hoped that by attending the vigil in Adelaide, she would be able to remember the deaths of innocent people while also reminding the world of what the Chinese government has done to Uyghurs in recent years.

It’s believed more than one million Uyghurs, a minority ethnic Muslim group from northwest China, have been detained in “mass re-education” detention camps.
Hong Kong politician in exile Ted Hui at the Adelaide vigil in front of the Chinese consulate on Saturday.
Hong Kong politician in exile Ted Hui at the Adelaide vigil in front of the Chinese consulate on Saturday. Source: SBS


“The Uyghur community has been suffering gravely and the genocide has been committed with over 380 concentration camps … and sentenced to prison for purely wanting human rights and for purely wanting to live their lives,” Ms Chanisheff said.

China has long denied the alleged human rights abuses, insisting that Uyghurs were willingly enrolled in "vocational and education centres" to free themselves of "extreme views".
Uyghur community leader Ramila Chanisheff attended the Adelaide vigil.
Uyghur community leader Ramila Chanisheff attended the Adelaide vigil. Source: SBS


Vigils in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane

In Perth, a vigil was led by Richard Lue of the Western Australian Association for Pan-Asian Democracy, and attended by the city’s Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Tibetan communities.

There was little show from members of the mainland Chinese community, according to Mr Lue.

He said he hoped the vigil served to counter the Chinese propaganda that he believed was brainwashing mainland Chinese abroad.

"Since Xi Jinping took power, the control has become increasingly tight."

I believe that generations born after the 1980s and 1990s are unaware of the truth (about June 4).
A speaker addressing crowd at a Tiananmen vigil in Perth.
A speaker addressing crowd at a Tiananmen vigil in Perth. Source: Supplied
Mr Lue believed "anti-China" information had been filtered by the Chinese government, preventing Chinese people from accessing accurate information.

“Or, having been brainwashed by (Chinese) government propaganda, they still lack the ability to obtain accurate information despite living in Australia."

In Brisbane, vigil organiser and human rights group Hong Kong International Alliance says 200 people participated in the event in Brisbane Square while in Sydney various groups and participants rallied from Martin Place to the Sydney Town Hall on Saturday afternoon. 

Tiananmen vigil in Brisbane on Saturday.
Tiananmen vigil in Brisbane on Saturday. Source: Supplied


By early evening, pro-democracy supporters arrived outside the Chinese consulate to participate in a vigil titled, ‘Say no to Chinese Communists’.

Among them were Mr and Mrs Shum who recently arrived in Australia from Hong Kong with their three sons.

The family said they had attended the Victoria Park vigil before it was banned and chose to join the Sydney event to keep memories alive.

“We hope to remind the younger generation what happened in Tiananmen Square 33 years ago,” they told SBS Cantonese.

On Saturday, the commissioner of Hong Kong's foreign affairs ministry issued a statement urging politicians in the United States and other Western countries to "ditch political tricks".  

It stated that Hong Kong is further transitioning from chaos to stability and opening a new chapter of sound governance.
Sydneysiders rallied around the city's Chinese consulate on Saturday evening.
Sydneysiders rallied around the city's Chinese consulate on Saturday evening. Source: SBS/Waiyee Yeung


“A few Western countries still try to use the political incident that happened three decades ago for ideological infiltration and peaceful evolution against China.

“The move is doomed to be a complete failure given the current historical trend and the development of the Chinese nation.”

The Chinese embassy in Australia was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline. 




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6 min read
Published 5 June 2022 at 4:38pm
By Wai Yee Yeung, Helen Chen, Tania Lee
Presented by Nina Loh