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Final Hong Kong memorial for Tiananmen massacre?


Future freedoms uncertain as Chinese rule approaches

June 4, 1997
Web posted at: 1:03 p.m. EDT (1703 GMT)

In this story:

From Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy

HONG KONG (CNN) -- With Beijing set to take control at the end of the month, Hong Kong held its annual -- and perhaps last -- candlelit memorial for Chinese pro-democracy protesters killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Tens of thousands of people participated on Wednesday night in a ritual that could end with China's July 1 takeover.

The rally at Victoria Park was the last under British rule to commemorate the June 3-4, 1989, crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Tiananmen anniversary quiet in Beijing
Images from a vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong

New at this year's rally was a three-story-high sculpture featuring twisted human bodies. The "Pillar of Shame," sculpted by a Danish artist, was unveiled on Tuesday.

However, Hong Kong officials refuse to allow the sculpture to be displayed in city parks during the handover celebrations.

Last memorial?

Witnesses to the attack by the People's Liberation Army eight years ago said hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chinese civilians were slain. Chinese leaders say the claims are exaggerated.

There has been no outright threat to ban future commemorations in Hong Kong, but future leader Tung Chee-hwa is urging the public to put Tiananmen Square behind it and focus on making the change of sovereignty a success.

Still, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong plan to hold the rally again next year, signaling a potential challenge in the territory's relationship with Beijing.


China has approved a semi-autonomous government for Hong Kong but has warned it must not become a base for the subversion of the Communist Party. It has labeled some Tiananmen memorial organizers as subversives.

"The anxiety level of the Chinese government increased after the June 4th events," says Xu Jiatun, who was China's top diplomat in Hong Kong until he defected to the United States after the massacre. "It is still most concerned with the issue of whether Hong Kong could be a base to promote political changes in China."

Tung has said rallies that do not break the law will be allowed after the handover. But he has warned that he won't let Hong Kong become a hotbed of anti-Beijing agitation.

The future Hong Kong leader has introduced laws giving his administration the right to ban rallies and demonstrations that threaten China's national security.

Hong Kong's strong reaction

The bloodshed in 1989 triggered an intense reaction in Hong Kong. Almost 1 million people -- one out of every six Hong Kong citizens -- took to the streets. Afterwards, thousands of people here, disillusioned and worried about their future, moved overseas.


"Before June 4, 1989, nobody could imagine China would use guns on its own people," says Hong Kong legislator Szeto Wah, who helped organize protests immediately after the massacre. "So after that time, Hong Kong people lost hope."

Since then, large crowds have gathered in Hong Kong's Victoria Park every year to remember those who died and express their anxiety that future protests here could meet a similar fate.

Whether Hong Kong's lighting of candles and singing of songs to remember the dead of Tiananmen Square will be seen as a challenge to China's national security remains an unanswered question.

But there are more than a few people here who fear this year's commemoration could be the last one.

Hong Kong Special Section
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