On Saturday, the anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown, security was tightened around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, while Hong Kong police warned people not to gather as China seeks to erase all reminders of the April 4 events June to remove.
The crackdown discussion is very sensitive to China’s communist leadership.
Everything has been done to erase Tiananmen from collective memory, remove it from history textbooks and censor online discussions.
On June 4, 1989, the government sent troops and tanks to disperse peaceful protests, crushing a week-long wave of demonstrations demanding political change and curbing official corruption.
Hundreds, estimated at more than 1,000, were killed in the raid.
On Saturday, Beijing authorities installed facial recognition devices on roads leading to the square and stopped passers-by to verify their identities, including a large group of cyclists who had to individually scan their ID cards.
Police presence in the area was noticeably heavier than normal, with two to three times the regular number of officers visible as of Saturday morning.
References to June 4th have been deleted from Chinese social media platforms.
On Twitter, which is blocked in China, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it had been 33 years “since the world watched as courageous protesters and bystanders peacefully called for democracy in Tiananmen Square”.
“Despite the removal of monuments and attempts to erase history, we honor their memory by promoting respect for human rights wherever they are threatened,” he wrote.
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong was the only place in China where large-scale commemoration was still tolerated – until Beijing imposed a national security law two years ago to quell dissent after large pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Efforts to remove all traces of Tiananmen Square from the city have intensified, particularly over the past year.
Authorities warned the public on Friday that “attending an unauthorized gathering” risks breaking the law and carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
On the eve of the anniversary, large sections of Victoria Park were closed, where an annual candlelight vigil was held, attended by tens of thousands.
In nearby busy Causeway Bay shopping district, a performance artist who was carving a potato into the shape of a candle and holding a lighter to it was surrounded by more than a dozen officers and taken away in a police car, an AFP reporter saw.
Police later said they arrested a 31-year-old woman for “disorderly conduct in a public place.”
The Hong Kong Alliance, the organizer of the vigil, was charged as a “foreign agent” with inciting subversion.
The lack of clarity about exactly where Hong Kong’s red lines run has led many to join the line.
Six universities on June 4 removed monuments that had stood on their campuses for years. Just before Christmas last year, three were taken away within 48 hours.
Annual Catholic memorial services, one of the last chances for Hong Kongers to remember publicly, were canceled this year as organizers said they didn’t want to break the law.
Commemorative events in Macau have also been cancelled, with organizers blaming the “deteriorating environment in Macau’s politics”.
The space to publicly commemorate the crackdown now lies outside of China, where exiled dissidents are setting up their own museums in the United States and activists plan to resurrect the Pillar of Shame, one of the university’s removed statues, in Taiwan .
The US and Australian consulates general in Hong Kong posted tributes at Tiananmen Square on social media on Saturday, with the former changing its Facebook cover photo to the pillar.
Vigils will be held around the world on June 4, with rights group Amnesty International coordinating candlelit vigils in 20 cities “to call for justice and show solidarity for Hong Kong”.
“The ability to commemorate the June 4 massacre has deteriorated drastically in Hong Kong,” Kacey Wong, an artist who fled to Taiwan, told AFP at an exhibition in Taipei.
“Coming to Taiwan and having the ability to be human again – to express our concern to mourn the dead is a privilege. It is an absolute privilege to be able to mourn together openly and in a public place.”