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30 years since Tiananmen crackdown, mainland Chinese reflect secretly in Hong Kong

In this June 4, 2019, file photo, thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil for victims of the Chinese government's brutal military crackdown three decades ago on protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square at Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
A Chinese man, left foreground, gazes at a monument for the Tiananmen massacre's victims at a 30th-anniversary vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on June 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Shizuya Fukuoka)

HONG KONG -- The crackdown on the student democracy movement in China by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) marked its 30th anniversary on June 4. The Mainichi Shimbun had the opportunity to speak candidly with two Chinese nationals visiting Hong Kong from mainland China on June 2.

Hong Kong has a June 4th Museum, in which items left behind by the victims of the massacre are on display, as well as newspaper clippings, photos, videos and other resources. The Mainichi asked Chan (a pseudonym), a 27-year-old Chinese man who was in a debate with a curator of the June 4th Museum about what actually happened at the Tiananmen crackdown. Chan said he was from northern China.

Mainichi: Are you doing research on the Tiananmen protest?

Chan: Yes. In China, information about the Tiananmen incident is completely suppressed, even on the internet. This might surprise foreign nationals, but Chinese people today really don't know anything about that crackdown. I came to the museum because I heard there are a lot of newspaper clippings and other resources about the incident here.

Mainichi: What do you think about the Tiananmen incident and the Chinese government today?

Chan: The Chinese government should not have clamped down on students using military tanks. The government should take responsibility for this. For the past 40 years, China has depended on cheap labor provided by the people to produce maximum profits under a policy of reform and opening doors.

The biggest problem with China's communist society is that while we produce together, we do not all get to enjoy the fruits of production together. Power is concentrated among a very small number of people, and meanwhile, most people have neither power nor rights. In China, however, even university professors are scared to voice such truths. Everyone's angry, but if we say anything, we lose our jobs. I know many people who are skeptical of the current establishment.

Mainichi: Are you able to have discussions like this in China?

Chan: There is a small group that gets together to talk about the truth behind the Tiananmen clampdown. We meet discreetly and debate based on resources we've secretly gotten our hands on. But it's not something we would dare to do in public. The only reason I can speak to a Japanese reporter like you here is because freedom of speech still exists in Hong Kong. There are very few young mainland Chinese people who know about the Tiananmen crackdown. I want to share the information I gain here with as many people as I can on the mainland.

Mainichi: Freedom in Hong Kong appears to be standing on increasingly shaky ground in recent years.

Chan: If Hong Kongers simply pursue economic gain, and stop protecting what's most valuable, which is freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, sooner or later Hong Kong will fall at the hands of the Chinese government.

Mainichi: Is there hope in China's future?

Chan: There is hope. Do you know why? Because the Chinese government has already lost the trust of the people.

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Next, a company employee from the south of China, Lam (a pseudonym), 30, responded to questions from the Mainichi. Lam was planning to attend a major memorial event honoring the victims of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4.

Mainichi: I came here from Taipei to report on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

Lam: Taiwan has already made democracy a reality. I hear there are often verbal and physical altercations in the legislature there, but it's all for the people, so I think that's wonderful. Taiwan is a ray of light in the Chinese diaspora. I think it has shown the path that mainland China should take.

Mainichi: If you participate in a Tiananmen memorial event, don't you run the risk of being arrested by Chinese authorities?

Lam: If someone takes a photo of me participating in a memorial event, and that's reported to Chinese authorities, my parents and my employers will likely be contacted. I'll be careful not to have any photos taken of my face. In Hong Kong, a certain level of freedom is still guaranteed. I'm grateful that I won't have to worry about spies from the Chinese government.

Mainichi: If you take part in a memorial event, is there a possibility that you will be detained?

Lam: I'm prepared for that. On the 4th, I want to honor the spirits of those who came before me and died fighting for democracy. To live under the rule of the Communist Party of China is to have no freedoms; it is extremely stifling. China needs to democratize. It might be difficult now, but we must not give up hope. I may have little to contribute, but whatever I do have, I'd like to give toward pushing China's democratization forward.

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On the night of June 4th, I met Lam again. Many members of the public had already gathered at Victoria Park ahead of the memorial event that was to begin at 8 p.m. Lam and the others stood in front of a monument erected for the victims of the Tiananmen massacre. "I truly respect those who came before me who died fighting for China's democratization. My heart hurts to think about their disappointment over being killed (before they saw their dreams come true)." He then bowed deeply three times toward the monument.

"Hopefully we'll meet again next year," Lam said, waving his hand with a smile as he disappeared into the crowd.

(Japanese original by Shizuya Fukuoka, Taipei Bureau)

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