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China is trying to rewrite history

Posted by on 15 juin 2021

By banning Tiananmen vigils in Hong Kong, China is trying to rewrite history

The Communist party is widening its attack on the legacy of 1989 – and criminalising a new generation of activists

Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, on 4 June 2020.
Fri 4 Jun 2021 by

‘Last year, tens of thousands of Hongkongers defied a Covid-inspired ban to flock to the vigil.’ Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, on 4 June 2020. Photograph: Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Over the weekend, a diminutive, white-haired woman carrying a yellow umbrella and a homemade cardboard sign saying “32, June 4, Tiananmen’s lament” was arrested on suspicion of taking part in an unlawful assembly. She had been marching along the pavement alone. This Kafkaesque scene happened not in China, but in Hong Kong. The fate of “Granny Wong”, a 65-year-old protest veteran called Alexandra Wong Fung-yiu, underlines the rapidity of Beijing’s clampdown in the city where, just two years ago, 180,000 people attended the annual vigil remembering the 1989 killings in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

This year the Hong Kong vigil has been banned. Anyone gathering at the vigil site in Victoria Park on Friday could face five years in prison. Even publicising the event could lead to one year in jail under Hong Kong’s draconian National Security law, imposed sight unseen at the end of last June following a year of massive pro-democracy demonstrations. Public commemoration has become so risky that one Hong Kong newspaper even suggested writing the digits “64”, to commemorate the date of the protest, on light switches, so that flipping the switch became an act of remembrance. These moves underline the dangerous power of public memory, and how the events of 32 years ago still represent a suppurating sore at the moral heart of China’s Communist party.

This approach seems designed to prevent a rerun of last year, when tens of thousands of Hongkongers defied a Covid-inspired ban to flock to the vigil, where they quietly held candles aloft in socially distanced groups. At least two dozen people, including the newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai and the activist Joshua Wong, have been charged with unauthorised assembly as a result of the gathering, with some sentenced to as much as 10 months in jail. This is just one in a welter of public order offences laid against the territory’s most prominent politicians, lawyers, journalists and unionists, creating a kind of perp walk of conscience through the courtrooms as a generation of activists is criminalised.

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