An erased Tiananmen Massacre? How do we reconstruct discourse?

For years, the date "June 4th 1989" carries unescapable significance in Hong Kong's politics. It marks the watershed of conscience, defines the different camps of democratic and pro-Beijing politicians, serves as a battleground for Hong Kong people to resist China's official discourse of the Tiananmen Massacre. It is also a political imagination, first raised by the democratic movement in Beijing 29 years ago. It is also a memorial for us to rethink and discuss the future of China and Hong Kong.

After years of political discussion, the student movement in Hong Kong has dropped Tiananmen Massacre as a destined theme to discuss. Gradually it is fading out from the public discussions in the academic community. In this interview, two students, Ngn-man Wong from the BU Movement and Jasper Ho, previously worked for the Chinese University Student Press talk with us about this erased topic, Hong Kong and China, localism and Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (hereafter: the Alliance). From the perspective of two students, born in the post-1990s years, we try to figure out what Tiananmen massacre means to them.

Reversed enlightenment: their memories of June 4th

Both Nga-man and Jasper learned about June 4 when they were in secondary schools. Nga-man's teacher first talked about it in the Liberal Studies Class, in the fourth year of the secondary school. “The teacher said the students should share the blame too, trying to whitewash the responsibility of the Beijing Government.” she recalled. While her classmates did not challenge such a discourse, Nga-man felt discontented and searched answers for herself. She came to People Book Cafe, a book store that sold publications which were banned in China; read Feng Congde's A Tiananmen Journal. She realized being a university student, is not only about climbing up the social ladder, but also to get involved in social movement. Such an awareness influenced her choice later, when she went to the Hong Kong Baptist University, she started to participate in student and labour movement. Although her teacher of the Liberal Studies Class had her/his judgement of the Tiananmen Massacre, (s)he still had open discussions with her and such a reserved enlightenment inspired her to investigate the other side of China's official discourse. She studied China Studies in the university and joined the China Affairs Association.

Jasper heard of the term June 4th in primary school, without knowing its meaning. In the fifth year of secondary school, a teacher showed the documentary “The Gate of Heavenly Peace” to the class, calling it a “historical tragedy that nobody should bear full responsibility”. Jasper was not impressed by such a description, he thought “there must have been someone, who ordered (to kill)”. He was deeply touched by the students he saw in the documentary and when he joined the Chinese University Student Press, he read more about the history of the 1989 democracy movement. He realized the importance to re-discuss this issue in the publication of June 4th Special, because “it is still going on”, it is the heritage of China's democracy movement, this part of history is not yet over and a lot more to pursuit in transitional justice.

Regardless it is a reversed enlightenment, they both have not forgotten this part of history. However, the promise of democracy is not only ignored in China, but also seen as meaningless in Hong Kong, as young people have other issues to discuss. Jasper said he would not participate in the June 4th Candlelight Vigil at Victoria Park, he only wanted to distribute the June 4th publication outside. For Nga-man, she only wanted to join the march with other young people to the Liaison Office of Chinese Government in Hong Kong after the Candlelight Vigil.

A candlelight vigil as a memorial to mourn is what they cannot tolerate. Jasper said, such an assembly would not help the public to turn their sorrow into civil action, but serves as a public show for the politicians on stage to gain votes. It has little to do with pushing for the democratic movement in China and Hong Kong and its participants seldom think about taking action. Nga-man described the candlelight vigil as an outdated memorial and could not help its participants to empower themselves. Furthermore, those politicians who shouted “to end one-party dictatorship”  on stage, are exactly those who supported John Tsang to run for the Chief Executive Election and acted indecisively in key issues such as juxtaposed control, National Anthem Act and etc. Politicians in Hong Kong seldom have any vision in the demonstration of China. The young people both questioned, “are they really inheriting the June 4th aspiration?”

What do we expect? A localized view of China

In Hong Kong's student community today, “avoidance of June 4th” is one of the political advocacies. Some of the localists believe, to mourn Tiananmen Massacre victims is “the business of Chinese people” and as they do not identify themselves as Chinese, it is needless to talk about Tiananmen Massacre. Some even think that the discussion of Tiananmen Massacre would provoke Hong Kong people's identification with Chinese and undermine their resistance against China. The two interviewees do not agree to this claim, Jasper said, “in terms of geopolitics, no matter you are supporting self-determination, independence, division of power, federalism and etc., you have to cooperate with Chinese people or the Chinese civil society.” He also raised a fundamental question, “to fight for autonomy or independence of Hong Kong, would it be easier with a democratic China or an authoritarian China?” He believes that the discussion of democratization of China would require such a framework, namely neither to see Tiananmen Massacre as simply a historical event, nor to divide the democratization of Hong Kong from China's.

Thus, Nga-man is upset that the student community's withdrawal from June 4th related issues. She pointed out that some years ago, the localists in the student unions would still talk about June 4th and raise a different viewpoint from the Alliance, then they released statements to withdraw their participation from the Candlelight Vigil, and now, they simply remain silent. There is no doubt that she treasures her identity as a Hongkonger and contributes to issues the localists emphasize, but to her, localist issues and discussion of Tiananmen Massacre are not mutually exclusive.

They are neither fans of Alliance's version of June 4th memorial, nor the localists' politically-correct attitude of avoiding June 4th issues. Jasper agrees that it is urgent to establish an identity of Hong Kong people, but to achieve democratization or even independence, it is necessary to talk and fight for the democratization of China. It is different from the perspective that "Hong Kong would never get democracy if China is not democratized”, but in practical terms, a more democratic China can be beneficial for Hong Kong's democratization.

Nga-man basically can see eye to eye to Jasper's analysis, but she rather leaves the discussion of "national identity" out. "I am a Hongkonger, there is no doubt about it. In terms of issues, I am fighting against that the Hong Kong Baptist University's new policy in making Mandarin exam as a requirement to graduate. However, to uphold the idea of national identity, I am sceptical." During the interview, she has repeatedly raised that the democratic movement in Hong Kong should integrate with class issues, to break through the current framework of discussion.

Tiananmen Massacre is yet to be settled. Though it fails to pass the torch in fighting for democracy, it would continue to construct the political contours in Hong Kong and China. This interview might not reflect the interviewer's viewpoint or existing logic, but dialogue, to get people to tell their minds, is the key for understanding. Conflicts are inevitable, as Hong Kong people now see their political identity differently, they would also develop different views of China's democractic movement. In an era when patriotism is not essential, patriotism might only mean affection to the land and people, or patriotism is different from loving the party, it might be difficult to find fellows sharing the same belief. To come up with an idea that fits the Hong Kong situation, yet leaves the discussion of national identity out, would be the right thing to do, After all, our concerns and attention should not be determined by nationalism.