Tiananmen Square 25 years on: Thousands hold candlelight vigil to remember the dead

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy

hong kong

Tens of thousands of people have held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters 25 years ago in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, while mainland China authorities sought to whitewash the 1989 event.

In Beijing, police flooded the streets around the square, scene of the worst of the violence a quarter of a century ago, and censors scrubbed the internet clean of any mention of the rare display of open defiance against authority.

In Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but retains some independence, demonstrators holding candles and clad mainly in black gathered in a downtown park and called on Beijing to atone for the killings. A large number of mainland Chinese also flocked to commemorate the crackdown in the former British territory, where a vigil has been held every year since the massacre. Organisers said some 180,000 people took part.

“Hong Kong is a free society where you can speak out. In China, the Communist Party dictates everything,” said Chen Jing Gen, in his 60s, who travelled from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to attend the vigil. “People in mainland China are mostly aware of 4 June, but due to the control of the Party no one dares to talk about it.”

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy. China has never released a death toll from the crackdown after troops shot their way into central Beijing, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

 

Public discussion of Tiananmen is forbidden in China and online references to it are heavily censored, leaving many of the country’s youth ignorant of what happened.

“I had never heard of the Tiananmen incident until I was studying in the United States when I was 18,” said a 25-year-old woman surnamed Lan, who was visiting Hong Kong from Beijing.

In mainland China, police, soldiers and plain clothes security personnel enveloped Tiananmen Square, checking identity cards and rummaging through bags looking for any hint that people might try to commemorate the event.

Police escorted a Reuters reporter off the square, which was thronging with tourists, saying it was closed to foreign media. Police also detained another Reuters journalist for trying to report on the anniversary in one of Beijing’s university districts, releasing him after a few hours.

Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong (AP) Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong (AP)
“They have covered up history. They don’t want people to know the truth of what they did,” veteran activist Hu Jia told Reuters from his home in Beijing. He said police had prevented him from leaving.

“Nobody would have confidence in them if they knew what they did... They should have fallen because of what they did,” he added, speaking by mobile telephone.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday defended the crackdown, saying the government had chosen the correct path for the sake of the people.

The protests began in April 1989 as a demonstration by university students in Beijing to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been ousted by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. They grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.

Reuters

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