Lighted phones defy Hong Kong ban in memory of Tiananmen


As it was 8 pm in Hong Kong’s business district of Mong Kok, dozens of people lit their mobile phones simultaneously, in defiance of the city’s ban on memorializing the events of Tiananmen Square.

The scene was repeated in many other parts of Hong Kong, where thousands of people in the past 32 years have gathered in Victoria Park to light candles, in honor of the victims who fell in 1989 when Chinese troops and tanks attacked pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.

In recent years, crowds commemorating the anniversary have grown, as Hong Kong residents have grown increasingly angry at Beijing’s harsh rule of the island.

Traditionally, candles are lit at 8 p.m. and a minute of silence is observed at 8:09 in reference to 1989. This year, amid a widespread crackdown on dissent, police cordoned off the park, citing coronavirus measures.

Creative ways to protest

But signs bordering graffiti and slogans can still be seen on the walls to people lighting candles, standing or chanting popular protest chants as they walk.

“I’m not here to take part in a gathering, I’m here waiting for someone,” one of those who held a candle in Mong Kok on Friday night outside a shopping mall told AFP, after identifying himself as Bon.

Yuen, 69, who was handing out candles to passers-by, said: “There is more than one way to commemorate the Fourth of June,” adding, “I think there is no way that people can completely forget.”

Among those arrested and searched by police was Chan, who said: “I am here because I want to continue the tradition of remembrance, and other than mourning the dead on June 4, we also need to mourn the lost freedoms in Hong Kong.”

Another man named Ng passed by with a bag containing bananas and two phones with lights inside as well. “The only way we can be creative,” he said.

Even companies have also found creative ways to calmly express their political views. Elvis Chan, a 33-year-old restaurant owner, said he plans to show “historical clips and documentaries about the June 4 incident” on television. “We hope that the citizens are aware of the history, we will not forget and we will not give up,” he told AFP.

Another restaurateur, who gave her first name Carrie, confirmed that she would light candles and play protest music. The 31-year-old added: “The government has banned commemorations in Victoria Park, but it can’t stop people from mourning the victims in our own way, and by doing so I am not violating any law.”

“Pillar of Shame”

On the campus of the University of Hong Kong, Friday afternoon, students washed a monument bearing the name “Pillar of Shame”, another tradition associated with June 4 that the authorities have not yet banned.

The monument embodies 50 corpses intertwined with each other with faces expressing pain, and the statue symbolizes those who died in the Tiananmen campaign.

Alberto, a 25-year-old art student, was among those who laid flowers in front of the monument, describing the ban on the vigil as “a form of political repression, aimed at silencing dissent as well as trying to wash away our memories of the Tiananmen massacre.” But he said Hong Kong residents will find ways to keep the memory alive, such as the ritual washing of the monument.

“I feel it has become more important that we do everything we can within the strict measures,” the student added, refusing to give his full name.

It’s an attempt to prevent historical denial by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Isaacs, an 18-year-old science student. But he added that he was not sure if there would come a time when students might not be able to commemorate the memory.


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