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20 Years Later, Hong Kong Students Try to Understand Tiananmen Protest


Twenty years after the Chinese military killed hundreds of protesters around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, students in Hong Kong still struggle to understand what happened. Most are too young to remember. Some political activists fear the younger generation may lose interest in the issue.

Kobe Ho, 20, has gone to many candlelight vigils to commemorate the killings on June 4, 1989. But she says most Hong Kong residents her age find themselves detached from history.

"I can hardly remember anything since I grew up from a very protective environment," noted Kobe, "and I remember that my parents did not allow me to watch the TV program because they were too devoted. ... Even if I did not recall anything from that particular date, but you somehow know that there is something very tragic happened 20 years ago."

Search for understanding

Kobe and her friends organized an art exhibit and a talk to help their generation understand the events.

"It Is very interesting because there is no rage no anger, but the things are so ambiguous," Kobe said. "I think it is a representation of our generation that we are so young to know what really happened, but the memory somehow affect ourselves and reflected as some kind of impression to our country and to our own history."

This 19-year-old student says he has been to several discussions and talks these past few weeks to learn more about June 4.

"I have no idea about this issue because teachers would not talk about this," he said. "My parents would not talk about this. No one talked to me about this, until I reached university."

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is the only city in China where June 4 is publicly commemorated each year.

Search for information

Elsewhere in the country, the Beijing government has suppressed all talk of the protests. But Hong Kong students complain that school textbooks have very little to say about this part of Chinese history, leaving them clueless or misinformed.

"June 4 is 20 years old and in our curriculum, Chinese history curriculum, there is no coverage, just a few sentences to describe the event, but in a very ... simplified way," the student said.

What happened in 1989?

In the spring of 1989, thousands of university students around China began demonstrations calling for political and economic reforms. A million people in Hong Kong marched in support of the protesters. But since then, Hong Kong has returned to Chinese sovereignty, and the mainland's economy has rapidly grown. As a result, some here have defended Beijing's suppression of the protests as vital for national stability.

Hong Kong politician Andrew To was a 23-year-old Hong Kong student leader when the crackdown occurred.

"It is understandable, but not acceptable, for me that they twisted the facts about June 4, saying that no one was killed in Tiananmen Square," To said. "Saying that we should put that away for the moment because the development of China is better, and saying that the student leaders in China during that time had their own wrongs in the tragedy of the movement."

Students are talking

In recent weeks, To has attended several discussions with students about the incident.

"I think the people of Hong Kong have the great responsibility to tell the whole world that we still insist on this. This is a matter of life and death. This is the values of the people," To said.

On Monday, a group of students staged a hunger strike outside a shopping mall, seeking justice for those who died and hoping to raise awareness among their peers.

But as the protesters sang and chanted slogans, most other young people simply walked on and continued with their shopping.

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