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For Hong Kong, Tiananmen Looms Over the Future

2020-06-04 00:39:02
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On every June 4 since 1990, huge crowds of Hong Kongers joined in a vigil to remember the loss of lives, and the loss of ideals, in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when Chinese tanks and soldiers crushed a monthslong protest in Beijing calling for democratic changes to China’s one-party rule.

This year, for the first time, Hong Kong will not have the chance to officially remember an event it cannot forget.

The annual vigil was banned by the territory’s authorities, who said they were trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But the outlawing of the commemoration for the only time in three decades comes when Hong Kong has been experiencing its own months of often-violent protests.

In early 1989, change seemed inevitable, unstoppable. The Soviet Union was wobbling, and its Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe was beginning to show signs of cracking.

That spring, many hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters — at first, mostly students, then a wide cross section of Beijing workers — gathered in Tiananmen Square in the capital.

    Updated May 27, 2020

    • Where we left off

      In the summer of 2019, Hong Kong protesters began fighting a rule that would allow extraditions to China. These protests eventually broadened to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy from China. The protests wound down when pro-democracy candidates notched a stunning victory in Hong Kong elections in November, in what was seen as a pointed rebuke of Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong.

      Late in 2019, the protests then quieted.

    • How it’s different this time

      Those peaceful mass rallies that occurred in June of 2019 were pointed against the territory leadership of Hong Kong. Later, they devolved into often-violent clashes between some protesters and police officers and lasted through November 2019. The current protests are aimed at mainland China.

    • What’s happening now

      This latest round of demonstrations in Hong Kong has been fueled largely by China’s ruling Communist Party move this month to impose new national security legislation for Hong Kong.

      To China, the rules are necessary to protect the country’s national sovereignty. To critics, they further erode the relative autonomy granted to the territory after Britain handed it back to China in 1997.


With the protests applying intense pressure to the country’s leadership, and with the eyes of the world watching with mostly hopeful anticipation, the demonstrators’ calls for democracy appeared poised to be realized.

Then, early in the morning of June 4, the Chinese government decided it would act, but not to meet protesters’ demands. Instead, it ordered the military to clear the square, killing hundreds, maybe thousands of protesters.

The memory of that massacre has faded, or at least lost its urgency, in much of the world. But not in Hong Kong.

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