HONG KONG — The Tiananmen protests were a watershed moment for Hong Kong, which in 1989 was just eight years away from returning to China after 150 years as a British colony.
At the time, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched in support of the protests in the mainland and wept when they were crushed.
To this day, Hong Kong is the only place in China where the events of 1989 are publicly remembered.
In 1989, poet Meng Lang was working as an editor at Shenzhen University, located in southern China, just 30 kilometers north of Hong Kong.
In the 1980s it was one of a handful of cities allowed to experiment with private enterprises, which Meng said gave it a unique perspective on the 1989 students' movement.
“Shenzhen was the only place in China were we could freely watch TV news from Hong Kong. Every household could watch Hong Kong news. Every building had an antenna called ‘fishbone antenna,’ so we knew all that happened to the students' movement, from the death of Hu Yaobang to the repression on June 4th,” Meng said.
Hong Kong support
Watching those news broadcasts, Meng said, Hong Kong's support was unmistakable.
“There were many demonstrations, they also collected a lot of money to send to the students in Beijing's Tiananmen square. In 1989 Hong Kong was facing the reality of returning to China eight years after, so people in Hong Kong had a question about that,” Meng recalled.
The question, Meng said, was whether the freedoms the city-state had enjoyed as a British colony could be sustained under Chinese rule.
25 years later, Hong Kong has transitioned to be a part of China, but still retains an independent judicial system and a free press.
Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk Yan joined thousands marching in the city Sunday to commemorate June 4.
“The question about the future of Hong Kong is still hanging on us, and so it is very important for people in Hong Kong to continue our defiance of any narrowing of our freedom and suppression of other freedoms,” Lee said.
The 1989 remembrance comes as Hong Kong debates the details of universal suffrage planned for 2017, when Hong Kong residents will nominate and elect leaders, and 2020, the deadline to form a legislature.
Pro-democracy activists say Beijing is trying to amend the electoral law to bar dissenting voices from participating as candidates.
Hong Kong resident Joanne Wu also marched on Sunday, and said that demonstrators in Beijing in 1989 wished for political reforms - much like people in Hong Kong now.
“Twenty-five years ago the students they also want democracy in mainland China. After 25 years we also want the dream of democracy to be implemented in Hong Kong and mainland China as well,” said Wu.
Deng, 60, was also at the rally.
“I will use my last strengths to remember the Chinese democratic movement,” Deng said.
In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, authorities in Beijing have detained activists, scholars and intellectuals because of their efforts to privately commemorate those who died in 1989.
Meng has recently published two books, one of poems and one of contemporary art dedicated to the events of spring 1989.
"Books on taboo topics like June 4th that cannot be discussed in the mainland are published in Hong Kong, and abroad where we have the freedom to do so. We have to break these taboos and spread the voice back to China, to inform and let people discuss June 4th, discuss freely all that is in society," said Meng.
Such discussion should not come at the price of harassment and detainment, Meng added.