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Hong Kong Leads Tiananmen Remembrance

Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan
Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan
HONG KONG - This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. With the social and political freedoms Hong Kong enjoys as a special administrative region of China, the city remains a cradle for democracy activists seeking to preserve the spirit of the 1989 student protests - despite Beijing’s growing influence over the former British colony.

June 4, 1989, the student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square was crushed by the Chinese military. Twenty-three years later, the symbol of China’s democracy movement survives in Hong Kong.

Opened in April by the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, this is the first museum in the world dedicated to the memory of the Tiananmen massacre.

"We hope the artifacts can really help get the emotion across to those who visit the museum, so they can really understand what happened and will continue to struggle for democracy and human rights in China," said lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, co-chair of the pro-democracy Alliance.

The Chinese government forbids discussion of the Tiananmen crackdown. But, Lee says, some of Hong Kong's 30-million annual tourists from mainland China are now visiting the museum to learn more.

"Of course, China will not allow the words ‘June 4th’ or ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ to appear on the Net - never. [So], this can be really a focal point where mainlanders can understand what happened June 4th," said Lee.

The museum is just the latest example of Hong Kong's unique ties to the June 4th Movement - an involvement that goes back to 1989. This week, the 6/4 theater company performs a play called Yellow Bird.

In the days after the Tiananmen crackdown, Hong Kong activists helped smuggle students out of Beijing, through Hong Kong and on to the United States and Canada. The secret program was code named Operation Yellow Bird. It ran for eight years, until 1997.

Despite Hong Kong’s freedoms, producing a play about Tiananmen is no easy proposition, says director Lo Ching-man.

"You want to book a performance venue, but nobody will let you. If you want to book an ad on a bus, the bus company will say no to you. There is some interference, but you do not know where it came from. This is something really horrible," said Lo Ching-man.

Sheena Yu was just a toddler when the Tiananmen crackdown occurred. She considers June 4th increasingly relevant to Hong Kong as Beijing’s control over the city grows.

"Those students in Tiananmen, they are protecting their county; their love and their belief in the future - they fight for it. I appreciate their behavior and their action, and their love," she said.

Almost a quarter of a century later, although the Tiananmen Square crackdown is shrouded in secrecy in mainland China, many in Hong Kong continue to honor the sacrifice of the protesters killed that day.