1989-2019: Perspectives on June 4th from Hong Kong

Éric FLORENCE (Editor), Judith PERNIN, Keith RICHBURG (Interviewee), King-wa FU (Interviewee), Louisa LIM (Interviewee), Edmund CHENG (Interviewee), Wai Hei Samson YUEN (Interviewee), Wen YAU (Interviewee)

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The sheer violence and magnitude of the repression that took place on and after 4 June 1989 shook Hong Kong society to the core as the crackdown forcefully questioned confidence in Hong Kong’s political future with the threshold of the handover looming on the horizon. In May and June 1989, the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who took repeatedly to the streets to demonstrate against repression of the student movement did so out of feelings of anger, devastation, and anxiety about the political future of Hong Kong, as Joseph Y. Cheng wrote in a 2009 special issue of our journal devoted to June 4th on the 20th anniversary of the brutal suppression of the movement (Cheng 2009: 92). Since 1997, while the Special Administrative Region operates within the “one country two systems” (yiguo liangzhi 一國兩制) framework, June 4th continues to stand as a cornerstone in the definition of Hong Kong’s identity formation and its complicated relationship vis-à-vis China and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Over the last three decades, Hong Kong has been the site of the largest and probably most diverse forms of collective commemoration of the 4 June 1989 massacre. The ebbs and flows of these commemorations have articulated in complex ways with Hong Kong society, politics, and identity.

In contrast with the PRC, the 1989 movement and its bloody aftermath can be discussed openly in Hong Kong, and June 4th is still commemorated yearly, most notably during a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. The nature of this commemoration has long served to define political lines between the pro-establishment camp on the one hand, and on the other, supporters of full-fledged democracy and free speech who mostly identify with the pan-democrats spectrum. Hong Kong’s unique position led to a rich production of research, writing, artworks, and commemorations – one of which is the recently reopened June 4th Museum (Liusi Jinianguan 六四紀念館), run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.[1] These past few years, however, the rise of “localism” (bentu yishi 本土意識) and a growing sense of the encroachment of Beijing politics on Hong Kong’s core values call for reconsidering June 4th’s defining nature in Hong Kong. Particularly since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, June 4th commemorations have become a controversial issue within the pan-democrat camp, reigniting a discussion on Hong Kong identity that reveals competing ideologies among different generations of Hongkongers (Fung 2018).

For its 30th anniversary, we have invited a number of Hong Kong-based researchers conducting studies on the legacy of the 1989 student movement and its crackdown to share their knowledge. In addition to hosting the world’s largest series of protests against the massacre, Hong Kong also offered a safe haven for journalists and researchers to report on the event in 1989. The local art scene also promptly engaged with the topic, inspiring pioneering video artists such as Ellen Pau 鮑藹倫 and May Fung 馮美華, to name just a few. The researchers interviewed below provide us with their perspectives on June 4th today, as the mainland’s and Hong Kong’s political contexts have drastically changed. As Hong Kong-based journalists, media researchers, political scientists, and artists, they share their insights on how the event is covered in the press, remembered, commemorated, and represented in Hong Kong and the PRC 30 years on.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Specialist publicationChina Perspectives
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


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