Author : Himalaya Tokyo Sakura Group / 皇后大道中

Having been a-decade-long tradition in Hong Kong, the candlelight vigil is an annual large-scale commemoration of the Tiananmen Square protests (known as June 4th Massacre), held in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay. As reported by the organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the Hong Kong police have officially issued a letter of objection to the event on May 27, 2021. For two successive years, the Hong Kong authorities have cited the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions to ban the organizers from holding the vigil. In spite of banning the vigil this year, other large-scale events such as art fairs and concerts are allowed to be organized. 

The memories of the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, have influenced throughout the decades with the candlelight vigil. In 1989, the student-led protest, calling for greater freedom in Beijing, ended abruptly with a brutal military crackdown against protestors, causing thousands of deaths. Over the years, the Chinese government has covered up the tragedy with discussions being censored in China and the death number never being released. Despite the Chinese government’s serious censorship, the candlelight vigil is held every year on June 4 in Hong Kong with the hope to keep the memories and the truth alive. 

The event has attracted millions of participants since it began in 1990. During the vigil, a sea of candles were lit and participants kept a minute of silence at 8:09 pm to commemorate victims of the massacre. Guest speakers including witnesses at the scene are invited to share their stories. Videos featuring members of Tiananmen Mothers are played and participants would sing songs such as Flowers of Freedom, which were written to remember the crackdown. In addition to commemoration, the organizers call for the release of imprisoned activists, as well as an end to Beijing’s “one-party rule”. 

The candlelight vigil — the only large-scale commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Chinese soil, symbolizes the respect of freedom of speech and expression in Hong Kong under the framework of “one country, two systems”. Yet, with the National Security Law published in June 2020, the city’s freedom and human rights are greatly threatened. Pro-Beijing officials said that the vigil’s call for a democratic China would be an act of “subversion” of State power, which violates the National Security Law. Some pro-democracy activists such as Joshua Wong were arrested for organizing and inciting others to attend the unauthorized vigil last year. The ban of the vigil shows a clear intention of the Central Government to suppress discussion on topics deemed sensitive, in an attempt to erase the ‘unwanted history’.

Since China imposed a security law in Hong Kong last year, anti-government slogans, speech, demonstrations and assemblies are deemed illegal and forbidden. It is clear that the law has tightened control over citizens’ rights to enjoy the freedom of speech and expression, in a bid to repress political opposition. It has also instilled fear for people in view of the serious consequences associated with the violation of the law such as imprisonment. The ban of the candlelight vigil shows the Central Government’s determination in pursuing greater societal control, and it remains a challenge for Hong Kong to preserve its core values. 

While it is seemingly an inevitable end to Hong Kong’s democracy under the National Security Law, it is still important for us to stay hopeful. In the past year, even in an atmosphere of sorrow and hopelessness, Hongkongers have demonstrated to the world the spirit of defiance. We have been awakened and this is how we could empower ourselves in the worst of times. The spirit will never be crushed.

The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of GNEWS.
Proofreading: Himalaya Tokyo Sakura Group / 东方淳子
Final editing: Himalaya Tokyo Sakura Group / Toyo Samurai
Uploading: Himalaya Tokyo Sakura Group / 老黑