Near the long lines of travelers lined up in front of the bus stops that line the sidewalks of Hennessy Road, a constantly congested road in the Causeway Bay district, in the heart of Hong Kong, a few black cardboard papers and white chalk stumps have been discreetly placed at the foot of a building, in a small recyclable plastic box, available to passers-by… to enable them to draw candles. Drawn with more or less skill, these sketches are then taped or placed against the wall. In the adjacent streets, other boxes were placed without the knowledge of the surveillance cameras.

While almost everything is banned in Hong Kong to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre on Saturday June 4, only gestures as innocent as a candlestick drawing remain to honor the unidentified and unrecognized dead of this dark episode. of Chinese history.

Police in clusters

Earlier, not far away, an old lady with long gray hair had dared to cross the street ostentatiously carrying a tiny candle, a heroic gesture in the new repressive context of Hong Kong. Similarly, carrying a white flower or turning on the light on your phone at 8 p.m. triggered loud police warnings over loudspeakers. Because although Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive, has never explicitly said that it is forbidden to commemorate Tiananmen, only talking about the importance of respecting laws and norms of social distancing, the police, she had largely dissuaded the crowds.

On the eve of the anniversary, she had indicated in particular that anyone, even alone, going to Causeway Bay on the outskirts of the great Victoria Park – the historic and traditional place of commemoration vigils, which over the years have brought together millions of Hong Kongers – could be arrested for “unlawful assembly” if their intention was to join other people who came for the same purpose. In Hong Kong, participating in an illegal assembly is punishable by five years in prison.

Also, Saturday, early evening, in the streets of Causeway Bay, it is an almost ordinary shopping day that seems to end at the foot of buildings covered with giant advertising screens and neon lights. Only the police presence is quite exceptional. The police are there in clusters, in front of storefronts and on the corner of every block, in uniform and in civilian clothes.

Their main activity seems to be searching young people, with a marked preference for those dressed in black, the color of the protesters during the 2019 uprisings. “I expected it because I am young and I wear black. But I had nothing on me that could make me suspicious,” said an 18-year-old student, who came to the neighborhood for what everyone calls “lok sei”, “six four” in Cantonese, that is, say June 4th.

A handful of arrests

In the evening, a handful of arrests took place. But the police control around the park was such that it was almost impossible to imagine the slightest overflow. Victoria Park had been closed. Even the pedestrian protection barriers, which separate the road from the sidewalks, had been dismantled, as if the police feared attempts at barricades, as at the height of the demonstrations in 2019.

The day before, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a group of students had scattered a few dozen 3D printed miniatures of the “goddess of democracy”, this sculpture which had throned in Tianamen Square in 1989 and had become the symbol of Beijing Spring and Hong Kong Vigils. In Hong Kong, in recent months, all representations of this symbol have disappeared. The small museum that documented the events of June 4 was forcibly closed. Books devoted to the Beijing Spring have disappeared from libraries and the episode will no longer be studied in the new school history programs in Hong Kong.

Lee Cheuk-yan, former deputy and president of the Alliance, the association responsible for these vigils since 1990, had for his part announced online that he would fast, light a match as a candle and sing the usual songs of the 4 June in his cell on Saturday. Like him, most Alliance officials are in prison.

Several Western consulates have meanwhile ignored the instructions given a few days ago by China not to mark this date. “Several consulates had received instructions from the Chinese Foreign Ministry not to do anything and not to tweet anything,” a European diplomat told us. In fact, the Chinese injunction was not followed. At the windows of the imposing American consulate in Hong Kong, hundreds of electronic candles were lit on Saturday evening.

Westerners accused of ‘playing with fire’

The European Union (EU) installed thirty-three candles in the window of its office located in the Admiralty administrative district and circulated the photo on social networks. “The European Union is always on the side of those who peacefully defend freedom and human rights everywhere in the world”, tweeted EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali, who recalled that the “violent repression of thirty-three years ago had turned the world upside down”.

This gesture of putting candles in the windows was inaugurated in 2021 when, faced with the ban on meeting in Victoria Park, the Alliance suggested that Hong Kongers mark the event at home by placing a candle on their balcony or at their window. Beijing did not like the American and European 2021 candles, accusing the West of “playing with fire”.

“The United States will continue to demand accountability for atrocities and human rights abuses [by China], particularly in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday. . The office of the head of Chinese foreign affairs in Hong Kong retorted strongly, citing in return “the killings in American schools, the carnage of Covid-19 and police violence, in particular the death of George Floyd”. The China office also suggested that the United States “stop lecturing others and care first about the well-being of its own citizens.”

In 1989, the events of the Beijing Spring had been closely followed by the Hong Kongers, whose fate was already sealed by the Sino-British declaration of 1984, although their territory had not yet been returned to China, which was done. on July 1, 1997. This handover was accompanied by the reassuring promise that “nothing would change for fifty years” and that everything would be done according to the principle of “one country, two systems”. But after having commemorated with force and dignity the dead of Tiananmen for thirty years, from 1990 to 2020, during impressive vigils, it is clear that Hong Kong no longer has the means for its historic mission. It is now up to others, like Taiwan, to prevent the Tiananmen massacre from falling into oblivion.