Zoo said her mother and father, a Chinese Communist Party scholar, were now under surveillance. “They tell my dad to go to the police station every week,” she said. Pictures of Zoo on a video call with Chinese police seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age corroborate her account.
Zoo and up to 200 other Hong Kong and Chinese migrants took to the steps of the State Library of Victoria on Thursday. “This protest is not just about Tiananmen,” she said. “Protest is a symbol of everything.”
Dozens were expected to join them at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. For the first time in three decades, there was no authorised public vigil in Hong Kong as the former British colony grapples with protests over new national security legislation imposed by Beijing and a coronavirus outbreak.
The decision to stop the public vigil from taking place drew condemnation from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the European Union on Thursday. “This commemoration is a signal that key freedoms continue to be protected,” an EU spokeswoman said. The US, the United Kingdom and Australia are now among those weighing up offering refuge to those who may leave Hong Kong, just as their compatriots fled Beijing three decades ago.
In China, June 4 got its annual serve of special treatment from the Chinese Communist Party’s censors: email communications were restricted and any mention of Tiananmen Square or the date wiped by government filters.
The Chinese government maintains the military intervention three decades ago was necessary to end political turbulence. The unrest was driven by students calling for greater press freedom, civil rights and curbs on government corruption. The government puts the official number of deaths at a tenth of the 2600 identified by China’s Red Cross.
There were no statements, no TV packages and no public events on Thursday. Only one veiled reference was made by the Hu Xijin, the editor of the Communist Party’s international mouthpiece The Global Times.
“The GDP of the mainland was slightly more than twice that of Taiwan in 1989, but today it’s 23 times. Do you feel upset and hopeless because of this change?,” he responded to Taiwan’s Presiden Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of one of the few countries in the Sinosphere that will publicly commemorate Tiananmen.
The organisers of Hong Kong’s vigil told participants worried about their safety to stay home and fast for the day. Those that could venture out would light candles at 8pm. This year the flames were not just for those who were killed in the massacre, but all those who have died in the global pandemic. They said lights would flicker in memory of Hong Kong’s past and hope for its future.
Scores of Hong Kongers said they still intended to march. More than 3000 riot police were mobilised to control the streets of Causeway Bay and Victoria Park. Firefighters entered Hong Kong’s legislature after two pro-democracy politicians, Eddie Chu and Ray Chan, threw foul-smelling liquid into the chamber to mark the occasion. “A murderous state stinks forever,” they said.
“I’m angry,” said Jane Poon, who left Hong Kong in 2017 and helped organise Melbourne’s vigil on Thursday. “We have a responsibility to talk about what happened in 1989 and also what is happening in Hong Kong.”
In Melbourne, Victor, a public servant who asked only to use his first name over fears of his family’s safety in Hong Kong, said the same regime that conducted the pro-democracy crackdown in Beijing in 1989 is still in power today, “but it is 100 times more powerful”.
The 38-year old remembers wall-to-wall BBC coverage in Hong Kong of the tanks rolling into the square.
“A lot of mainland students who come to Australia don’t know about it and they don’t want to know about it because they only read WeChat [Chinese social media] news,” he said.
“We feel it is our duty to put something out there. Even if they just Google it later, we have done our job.”
Poon is worried about new laws proposed at the National People’s Congress in Beijing that will help Hong Kong students “better learn Chinese history”.
“They tried to wipe off Tiananmen from history and not allow the next generation to know about what happened in China,” she said. “I believe the same thing will be happening in Hong Kong. They are already looking at our history books.”
The Chinese embassy was contacted for comment.
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.