Memory in Movement: Collective Identity and Memory Contestation in Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Vigils

Edmund W. CHENG, Wai Hei Samson YUEN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Collective memory shapes collective identity in social movements, yet the cultural process of transforming collective memory into collective identity and actions is anything but linear. While preserving an established historical narrative can maintain movement solidarity, this process is actively contested by multiple actors, which may weaken solidarity and disrupt mobilization. Why does the memory process facilitate collective identity building at one point but not another? What accounts for its success and failure in mobilizing through memories? This article studies the three-decade commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen protests in Hong Kong to unpack the memory making in movements. We argue that collective-identity building is shaped by the interaction between the repository of memories and the repertoires expressing them. Although the performative repertoire of the vigil has long bestowed moral power to memories of the Tiananmen crackdown, this repertoire is contested by competing repertoires, even though the memory itself is not disputed. Our findings highlight the performative and filtering role of repertoires in reproducing collective memory. They also reveal a dynamic and nuanced relationship between collective memory and identity, especially the mediating factors at work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-437
Number of pages19
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

The authors express sincere gratitude to Priska Daphi, Lorenzo Zamponi, and two referees for very helpful comments. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the third Mobilization Conference at San Diego and invited workshop on the memories of the Tiananmen at Harvard University. We thank the organizers and participants for useful feedback, particularly Chin-Jou Chen, King-wa Fu, Chloe Froissart, Francis Lee, Louisa Lim, Ming-sho Ho, Wing-chung Ho, Hank Johnston, Kevin O'Brien, Teresa Wright, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, and Guobin Yang. All errors are ours. The research was partially supported by a grant from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (Project No. UGC/ECS/22608518).


  • collective memory
  • commemoration
  • repertoire
  • mnemonic agents
  • social movements
  • Tiananmen Movement
  • Hong Kong


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