June 4, 2009

We will never forget

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Tonight I went to Victoria Park to attend the candlelight vigil on the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen massacre. I had been wanting to attend this annual event ever since I arrived in Hong Kong eons ago, but somehow never made it in the past. I finally made it for the all-important 20th anniversary.

Twenty years ago, I was a college student studying on the East Coast of the US. It was summer vacation and I was hanging around my godparents' house. I remember being glued to the TV in my room every night while I watched news coverage of the student protests. The mass of people I saw camping out in Tiananmen Square were basically my age, and it was easy for me to identify with them.

I was in utter shock when news came that the army had rolled in to suppress the protests. While I had a natural bias against Communist China, the reality still came as a total shock. It was my first realization that authoritarian regimes like China couldn't care less about what the world thinks of them.


 At the end of summer, one of my friends gave me a T-shirt that he picked up in Boston. On the front is a caricature of the famous "tank man" who stepped in front of a column of tanks to stop their progress. The back of the shirt declared loudly: "We will never forget".

The following summer I travelled to Hong Kong for the first time. I walked down Queen's Road Central and all over the heart of the city wearing this shirt, and I felt very proud that I was making a statement. Thinking back, feelings must have been running high in Hong Kong, too, after the first anniversary of the massacre.

Unfortunately the shirt was made 20 years ago and had long past its expiry date. It's no longer in my possession. But I kept the promise I made and never forgot what happened that June.

Tonight I attended the candlelight vigil held in Victoria Park to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the massacre. Yes, I keep using the term "massacre" because that is exactly what it was. China has admitted that hundreds of lives have been lost, while unofficial estimate puts the figure into the thousands.

Because of a previous engagement, I didn't arrive at Victoria Park until about 9:30pm, towards the end of the gathering. I missed most of the key presentations, including the broadcast of Zhao Ziyang's private memoir audio tapes. But it didn't matter. I was just happy to be standing on the edge of the big lawn with my friend Eric, being part of this great event. I took part as one of the 150,000 estimated participants, keeping the promise that I kept 20 years ago. I did not forget, and I never will.

The event ended peacefully, and I followed the crowd as it spilled into Causeway Bay. We walked past Long Hair, who was standing on a ladder preaching to the crowd. A casual stroll and I'm back home. I think I'll make attending these annual vigils a habit.


Susan said...

Peter, have you noticed that newspapers (including the SCMP) are no longer calling it a massacre? they're calling it a "crackdown" or "incident". But we all know the truth.

Peech said...

Well, we all know that the owners behind SCMP have large business interests in China, so of course they will tone down the rhetoric and choose their words carefully...

Pete said...

Long live the courageous pioneer fighters for freedom in Tiananmen in 1989. One day, China will have to face up to that moment.


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