Sowing seeds in the wilderland. Three post-80s teachers passing down the memories of June 4 Massacre
“The fight against autocracy and dictatorship is the fight between remembrance and oblivion.” Holding on to memories of June 4 is a great and long-lasting battle between Hong Konger and the Chinese Communist Party. In the battleground of education, the Chinese Communist Party is also mindful of its importance. Three post-80s teachers from the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union Executive Board, Cheung Wong, Cheung Man-chung and Tin Fong-chak shared their experiences on how they battle it out against oblivion by passing down the memories of June 4 to the next generations through education.
Knowing that the reporter wished to talk about June 4, Tin Fong-chak took out a latest issue of the HKPTU newsletter, where June 4 is the feature story which covers six pages, illustrating the level of perseverance even after thirty years has passed. Throughout the years, the HKPTU has been at the forefront to preserve the memories of June 4 and published various education materials for teachers to “teach June 4 with conscience”. They also sponsor the "June 4th Stage" performance program, which based on art education. Every year, dozens of secondary schools participate, so that the memory of the June 4th can be passed down.
In 1989, the HKPTU was a major independent trade union and has been established for 16 years. At that time, the HKPTU headquarters has just moved to Good Hope Building in Mong Kok and it quickly became a gathering place for those who supported of the democratic movement in Beijing. The then president of the HKPTU, the late Mr. Szto Wah, was also a main leader of The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (hereafter: Hong Kong Alliance). Then HKPTU Executive Committee, Pun Tin-chi revealed: "At that time, the democratic movement was not just a matter of the HKPTU. Members and other people spontaneously came to volunteer to distribute information. Although schools were still operating, teachers only stuck to the curriculum when teaching. For that one and a half month, what teachers and students discussed most was the democratic movement in Beijing."
As of today, the obligation to teach June 4 now falls on the generation who has no first-hand experiences of it, whereas the students in schools have not even experienced the handover of sovereignty. How can this flame of remembrance be passed down to the next generation?
“We would not talk about June 4 on purpose in class, “ liberal studies teacher Tin Fong-chak said. “Hard-selling is of no use! Especially from liberal studies teacher such as myself, who has already been ‘stereotyped’.” In liberal studies, when independent thinking is emphasized, there are many opportunities that we can touch on June 4 inadvertently. “When we talk about issues such as the reform and opening up policies in China, we will ‘mention’ June 4 naturally. It may happen in the morning assemblies or bringing students to visit the June 4 Museum as extra-curriculum activities. Isn't it a kind of National Education?” Tin quipped.
Comparing to “Inheriting Remembrance”, history teacher Cheung Wong tends to arouse the curiosity of his students on the democratic movement in 1989. “I would integrate some values and perspectives of June 4 in ordinary lessons, during May and June every year, students who know about June 4 would bring up the issue themselves. The opportunity to elaborate would come when they ask questions.“ Cheung Wong also described it as inadvertent.
This generation of teachers are no longer able to teach June 4 by first hand experience, on the contrary, they need to draw the connections between the incident with the situation today. Chinese teacher, Cheng Man-chung started to talk more about June 4 and current affairs after Leung Chun-ying became Chief Executive of Hong Kong. ”I work with students on ‘evidence and dialectics’, so when we are learning “benevolent governance by kingly rule”, the current Hong Kong and Chinese Governments are exactly the opposite of such. The current political environment, June 4 and Hong Kong are interconnected like a triangular relations. I always tell my students that in order to understand the problems of Hong Kong today, one must have to understand the development of events that led to the tragedy of June 4 Massacre.” Tin Fong-chak emphasized that if June 4 are taught without connecting with today’s background, it is just as remote as other historical events, “just like Nanjing massacre, students would feel distant.”
“Therefore, I would rather talk about the current situations in China than talking about June 4 alone. Students get so excited when talking China’s ‘facial recognition’ technologies. Then, we could follow up by the suppression on rights defending struggles nowadays to illustrate that ‘June 4 is still a present continuous tense,’” Tin Fong Chak said.
“Even adults feel indifferent, let alone students?” Cheung Wong recalled, “I used to study history and I learned from those who took to the streets in 1989, so I might have a stronger emotional attachment with the events. When compared to the students today, we can no longer expect them to have the same emotional attachment from simply watching a short video or two. Nonetheless, educating June 4 is still very meaningful for me. I admire Hong Kong people’s persistence and do not want to see our way of living gradually deteriorate.”
Cheung Wong pinpointed a reflection proposed by Yu Ying-shih that the slogan “‘Rehabilitate the 1989 pro-democracy movement” demanded by Hong Kong people had somewhat gone astray. “The assumption of the slogan is that one day the regime would express remorse and remedy the wrongdoings. Taking this traditional perspective perhaps is one of the reasons which leads to the stagnation in Chinese politics.”
As a matter of fact, countless people were purged and criticized in various political campaigns since the founding of the People’s Republic with denunciations such as “anti-revolutionaries” or “the black five categories”. The so-called “rehabilitation” often happened when new leaderships took over in order to remove the denunciations that was placed on the political enemies of previous leaderships. Such “rehabilitation” does not necessarily bring about progressive political and social changes.
Cheung Man-chung agrees that “honestly, I would not chant some of the slogans used by the Hong Kong Alliance,” an unexpected statement from an executive committee of the HKPTU. “Actually, we all know that there is no market for these slogans, because the ruthless regime has already planted seeds of hatred so deeply.” In his analysis, “anyways, slogans are slogans, the Hong Kong Alliance and relevant platforms are still indispensable. Some localists suggested other methods of commemoration. I fully respect those who take their own forms of commemoration. However, for those who claim that June 4 concerns only Chinese and is irrelevant to Hongkongers, of which I would not accept.”
The "patriotism" in the "patriotic democracy movement" has been criticized in the past few years as "strengthening the national identity of Chinese." "It is undeniable that the government is pushing forward a certain form of official "patriotism", which counters with the "patriotism" proposed by the Hong Kong Alliance." Cheung Wong commented, "and such form of "patriotism" merits the values of freedom." Tin is even more straightforward, "people who attend the candlelight vigil are more concerned with inheriting remembrance, rather than identity."
So, is it stressful to talk about June 4th on campus today? Cheung Man-chung only smiled and said, "The red line has not yet been drawn here. So keep on talking when we still can, don't be afraid." This attitude is also a kind of education. Compared with personal opinions, the three teachers even treasure more on what they can do. Cheung Wong will have a new attempt this year. "I will try to organize some interested graduates to attend the candlelight vigil this year."
From left to right: Tin Fong-chak, Cheung Man-chung, Cheung Wong
Tin Fong-chak, born in 1988
Liberal Sudies Teacher in Secondary School
Cheung Man-chung, born in1985
Ordinary Executive Committee Member, HKPTU
Chinese Teacher in Secondary School
Cheung Wong, born in 1989
Education Research Department Deputy Director, HKPTU
History, Liberal Sudies Teacher in Secondary School