Sunday, June 5, 2011

Twenty-two years on

Two points of light at Victoria Park yesterday evening

Two of many of the many thousands
at the candlelight vigil to mark the 22nd anniversary
of events that took place in Beijing on June 4th, 1989

Back in the summer of 1989, I was in London doing an internship at the Museum of Mankind (a museum run by the Ethnography Department of the British Museum between 1970 and 1994). Working in that wonderful museological establishment by day, I developed an after work ritual that involved regularly following the news on TV courtesy of the BBC and ITV.

In my memory, the summer of 1989 was a truly momentous one in terms of global political occurences (along with a great sporting one courtesy of Arsenal winning the league by going to Anfield and beating Liverpool 2-0). Among the many events covered by the BBC and ITV news teams, three that occured within days of each other stick out most in my memory: the death of Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran on June 3rd; Solidarity's being swept into power in Poland by elections taking place on June 4th; and what took place thousands of miles across the globe in Beijing on the same day.

Last night, a large crowd gathered in Victoria Park to once again remember the happenings in Beijing 22 years ago now, peacefully protest and more. In the more than two decades since 1989, so much else has happened in the world and in individual lives, including mine.

But the fact of the matter is that what happened in Beijing that summer remains a landmark event that deeply impacted millions of people, including many of us who were thousand of miles away from China at the time -- and, to judge from the large number of candlelight vigil participants who raised their candles aloft when asked at one point during last night's event who among the crowd were born after June 4th 1989, many individuals who hadn't even been blinks in their parents' eyes 22 years ago. On a personal note, I will never forget the shock, horror and revulsion I felt upon seeing TV footage of the events that took place more than two decades ago now.

On a more positive note: On evenings like yesterday, I find myself so grateful once again to be living in Hong Kong -- the only part of China where the events of June 4th, 1989, are allowed to be publicly commemorated, and many people play their part in doing so. Truly, the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park and associated events move me a lot -- and so much so that it is very hard to keep the tears from flowing during those occasions.


Gattina said...

I saw this celebration on TV, I never thought that it was such a long time ago. 1989 was a bad year for me personally too.

YTSL said...

Hi Gattina --

Let me emphasize: The June 4th candlelight vigil is not a celebration. I regularly come very close to crying during them.

Anonymous said...

It's heartening to see that the candlelight vigil for June 4th has become such an enduring tradition in Hong Kong.

Two things occurred to me that I'm curious about. How aware are people in China of the vigil in HK? And what's the age representation of the people attending the vigil? For example, are there people there who were born after the June 4th Incident?

Kingwho? said...

Beautiful post, YTSL.

baroness radon said...

I just got back from Beijing/Hangzhou and discussion of this anywhere among the people I talked to.

A hero never dies said...

I imagine it must be quite eerie YTSL, another large crowd in a city of crowds but for a completely different reason. Wonderful post!

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Yes, commemorating June 4th every year for 22 years. Who says Hong Kongers are apolitical and/or don't care about past events?

Re your queries: I'm not sure about the people in China. But since there are more Mainland tourists to Hong Kong, including this time of the year, I hope more of them will become aware.

Re the age representation: I saw elderly, middle aged and youthful all around me. And yes indeedy re there being people there who were born after 1989.

Hi Kingwho? --

Thank you.

Hi baroness radon --

Sad but not unexpected. :(

Hi "A hero never dies" --

It's not eerie at all. Sad and mournful, to be sure, but also energizing. It renews my faith in Hong Kong -- truly.