By Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info
Thousands marched through Hong Kong Island on Sunday 31 May to commemorate those slain in the June 4th 1989 Beijing massacre. The turnout of at least 8,000 according to organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, was the highest for many years – since 1992 according to some veteran democracy campaigners. The last Sunday before June 4th has become the traditional date for a procession through Hong Kong, the only part of China where such protests are allowed, as a prelude to the much larger candle-light vigil that takes place in Victoria Park on the anniversary itself. This year, the 20th anniversary of the brutal crackdown ordered by Deng Xiaoping and the aged leaders of China’s so-called ‘communist’ party, is expected to see the biggest mobilisation for more than a decade. Last year, the June 4th vigil drew around 50,000 despite the Sichuan earthquake and Olympic hysteria being used by sections of the establishment to dissuade people from participating.
This year, perhaps 100,000 will take part. This certainly seems a possibility based on the turnout on Sunday’s march which was eight times bigger than last year’s attendance of roughly 1,000. One factor that heartened many of the older generation who marched on Sunday was that so many young people also took part. The march was led by a group of twenty youngsters all born in the year 1989. Today, 1 June, the Hong Kong Federation of Students will stage a 64 hour hunger strike in memory of the Tiananmen hunger strikers. This refutes the claim of some commentators that the youth do not care, or simply do not know, about the events of 20 years ago.
“The turnout today shows there is a revival of demands for genuine democracy,” said ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-Hung, who represents the League of Social Democrats in Hong Kong’s legislature, and who helped to carry a coffin to the residende of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, symbolising the murdered workers and students of 1989. “There are several factors at work this year. It is the 20th anniversary, that is one factor, but there is also the serious economic crisis in China and Hong Kong, which has heightened popular demands for democracy, and the stupid mistake of Donald Tsang [the Chief Executive] is another factor,” he told chinaworker.info.
Hong Kong is in deep recession with a fall in output of over 7% in the first quarter of this year. Unemployment is set to double and a recent survey showed the majority of workers face cuts in wages in 2009. Two weeks ago, pressurised by pan-democrats in the Legislative Council to state his view on the Tiananmen massacre, Tsang, who is appointed by the Beijing dictatorship, said it was a long time ago and that China’s rapid economic growth over two decades meant the crackdown by the dictatorship merited an “objective assessment”! Tsang’s popularity has slumped since this speech, which triggered enormous controversy, exposing as it does the almost non-existent attachment of the city’s technocratic leadership to democratic principles. In fact, Tsang merely blurted out what most CEOs and capitalists who operate from China really think: that so long as business prospers, issues like democracy and human rights can take a back seat. As one demonstrator, truck driver Cheung Sheung-yee, said on Sunday: “If a murderer becomes a rich man, does it excuse his crimes? Of course not”.
|Two-thirds oppose the government’s line
The big turnout for Sunday’s event is a crushing answer to apologists for the massacre such as Tsang and Hong Kong’s political establishment. It confirms a wider trend of greater interest in the 1989 events and a more critical stance towards the Beijing regime. A University of Hong Kong poll released Wednesday showed that 69% of Hong Kongers think the crackdown was a mistake and 61% believe the Chinese government should stop condemning the protests. Both figures are a marked rise on last year, and in fact the poll’s findings are the most critical of the government since 2002. Another indication of the popular mood is the feverish interest in the ‘illegal’ memoirs of former Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, published last week. The book has sold out completely in Hong Kong. Chinaworker.info will be publishing a review of the book, ‘Prisoner of the State’ , shortly. It is a devestating critique of the Chinese political establishment by one of their former top spokesmen.
The revival of mass interest in the fate of the revolutionary movement of 1989 poses a serious threat to the Chinese regime, as it wrestles with a deep economic crisis and an array of other political challenges. There were 58,000 ‘mass incidents’ i.e. strikes, street protests and other outbreaks of unrest in the first quarter of this year – a mind-blowing all-time high. For this reason, the heirs of Deng Xiaoping who make up the present government have gone to unprecendented lengths to prevent all public discussion and commemoration of the Tiananmen movement. From Beijing we hear of a spate of new arrests and stepped up police harassment of known dissidents, human rights activists, socialists and pro-democracy campaigners. The repression is more severe even than during the Olympics last year. Media censorship and a heightened clampdown on the internet are all ingredients in the regime’s “6/4” risk avoidance strategy.
One particularly clear example of this is the murder investigation in Badong County, Hubei, in the case of 21 year-old Deng Yujiao, who stabbed to death a local government official who sexually assaulted her. This case has been catapaulted to national prominence by bloggers and civil rights campaigners, and activists have been calling for protests next week, on 1st June, the timing of which has sent regime security strategists into a spin. The latest news from Hubei is that dozens of activists have been deported from the region, all media reports are being heavily censored, and the area itself has been cordoned off from the rest of China, including a total blackout of the internet in the immediate vicinity of Badong. Similarly, the call by “6/4” campaigners for people to mark next Thursday’s anniversary with a silent protest by wearing white, has met with an immediate tough official counterstrike. University teachers have been told to ‘deal severely’ with any students that turn up for classes in a white tee-shirt on June 4th! These actions are hardly the hallmark of a government that is confident or feels that it sits securely in power.
Vindicate the 1989 movement – on the streets!
On the streets of Hong Kong, by contrast, due to the democratic rights that exist inside the Special Administrative Region (although its people still cannot elect a government or all legislators), the issues connected to the 20th anniversary can and are being keenly discussed. This reflects the real mood even inside mainland China, where people are forcibly prevented from such discussion and debate but strive in a million-and-one ways to overcome this, especially on the internet. Many on Sunday’s Hong Kong demonstration demanded a ‘vindication’ of the student-led movement of 1989. Some even call on the Communist Party to change its verdict on these events (classified as ‘political turmoil’). This website cannot add its voice to such calls, because we do not believe such a right belongs to the party and government that carried out the massacre. In our opinion, the mass movement of 1989 is vindicated already by the fervent and impassioned support it generates on the streets of Hong Kong, as shown on May 31st and undoubtedly even more so later this week, on June 4th.
Supporters of chinaworker.info and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) took part in the demonstration with a petition ‘Donald Tsang does not speak for us!’ deploring his recent comments and calling for an independent enquiry into the 1989 events and the role of top Chinese officials in the loss of life. Our petition calls for compensation for the families of the victims. It also calls for an end to one-party rule and police repression, and the release of all political prisoners. The petition demands democratic rights in China including freedom of association, a free press and the right of assembly. One issue raised by this website and our supporters in the demonstration has met with enormous support – the call to support workers’ struggles in mainland China and the building of independent trade unions to stamp out ‘blood-and-sweat’ exploitation. These demands spell out what is needed in order to continue and build upon the tradition of struggle from May-June 1989.
CWI stall at the demo
The CWI/chinaworker stall was one of the busiest at Sunday’s demonstration. Hundreds signed our petition and dozens showed their support by buying our ‘Remember Tiananmen 1989’ tee-shirts. More than 30 copies of our new book, ‘Tiananmen 1989 – Seven Weeks that Shook the World’ were also sold as well as other material. Several people said they had already bought the book, which went on sale in bookshops last week. Supporters of chinaworker.info were interviewed from the demo by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Free Asia, giving our view of the 1989 events as a revolutionary movement against capitalism and Stalinism.