Skip to main content

Lest We Remember? 毋念六四?

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, known more delicately in this part of the world as the June 4th Incident. Members of the so-called “June 4th Generation”—people born in or before the 1980s who feel a deep connection with the thousands of student protesters murdered that summer—have always felt a sense of duty toward them: to vindicate their death, and until then, ensure that the younger generations do not forget what happened.

Impossible to forget

The second duty is what compels parents to take their children to the Victoria Park candlelight vigil year after year, come rain or shine. The annual sit-in, organized by the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (支聯會), fills several football pitches and features impassioned speeches, songs and prayers. Just like marching down Hennessy Road on July 1st and sweeping grandpa’s grave on Ching Ming Festival, it is one of those things that people do out of habit and respect.

Since the Occupy Movement of 2014, every year in the lead-up to the massacre’s anniversary, university students will debate fiercely whether they should continue to partake into the Victoria Park memorial. Most of these discussions end in a decision to withdraw. Just today, the Chinese University Student Union issued a statement declaring the “end of the road for June 4th commemoration.” They argue that the annual ritual has become a “tick-the-box” exercise: participants show up at the park, post a sad-faced selfie on Facebook and feel good about themselves for having “done something” when all they have really achieved is group therapy. They also believe that the pan-democratic parties have turned these memorials into fundraising campaigns and political shows.

An annual ritual

Some students have gone further then that. Social media and online forums are plastered with memes and status posts with the rhetorical question: “What the F does June 4th have to do with me?” Their point is that Hong Kongers have nothing to gain from redressing the wrongs of the massacre, and to put less diplomatically, whatever happened in 1989 happened on the mainland to mainlanders and is therefore irrelevant to them and outside their agenda. Hong Kong people have enough on their plate fighting for greater autonomy and even independence from China. They won’t and can’t be bothered with what goes on north of the border. 

Expectedly, these sentiments draw outrage and condemnation from older politicians, parents and teachers. The June 4th Generation pounced on the students, calling them sacrilegious and heartless. Likewise, the students hit back with their own name-calling, accusing the adults of being “Greater China plastic” (大中華膠)—an epithet for those who talk incessantly about ending one-party rule in China without doing anything about it and who still believe that a better China will mean a better Hong Kong.

They don't see the point

So who is right and who is wrong? 

The best way to arbitrate the dispute is to go back to one of our earlier examples: sweeping grandpa’s grave on Ching Min Festival. Doing so will allow us to isolate the two issues at hand and deal with them separately.

The first issue concerns whether one should attend the Victoria Park memorial. Here, the students have a point. If they are not interested in speeches and prayers, then why force them? If your kids don’t want to travel to faraway Wo Hop Shek Public Cemetery and trek up the hills just to burn incense in front of grandpa’s grave, then leave them at home. Yelling at them for not respecting their ancestors will only backfire. For all you know, your children have their own ways of remembering grandpa that don’t involve posing a fire hazard in Fanling or benefiting greedy florists who jack up the price of chrysanthemums every Ching Ming. Mom and dad should just take a chill pill and get on with their trip without the kids. Both sides are better off.

Grave sweeping is not for everyone

The second issue, however, is altogether different—it is a question of ideology and basic human decency. Asking “what the F does June 4th have to do with me” is no less morally repugnant than saying “I don’t care if the Holocaust happened” or “the Paris terrorist attacks don’t matter to me.” Any liberal-minded person should take a stance against evil, murderous acts, whether you are Chinese, Hong Konger, French or Jewish. The isolationist approach to history and current events—the thinking that what happens elsewhere is relevant to me—is naïve and irresponsible. It is Donald Trump. 

Worse, denying that Hong Kong is a part of China and that the city’s fate is intricately linked to that of the mainland is to think that the Earth is flat or to call global warming a hoax. The notion that Hong Kong can somehow have meaningful electoral reform and genuine democracy without a more politically open China is mind-boggling. Put more bluntly, university students and young politicians who talk night and day of achieving autonomy and independence without ever proposing a concrete plan or a viable path is simply another kind of “plastic”—the localist plastic. 

So what I have to say is this: if you find the whole Ching Ming routine pointless and banal, all you have to do is stay home. You don’t need to say “who the F care about grandpa?” just because the old man died before you were born. 
___________________________________

This article appeared on Hong Kong Free Press under the title “The Victoria Park Tiananmen vigil debate: Should you go, or stay at home?”

As published on Hong Kong Free Press

Popular Posts

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK).

Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Revie…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events and speaking engagements in 2018


Commencement of spring semester at Faculty of Law of University of Hong Kong, LLM program
Course: International Securities Law
Venue: Centennial Campus, Pokfulam
Dates: 26 January - 27 April

Book launch of HK24 (2017 anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle)
Venue: Bookazine, Prince's Building
Date: 13 February
Time: 6:30 - 8:30pm


Speaker for Enrich HK's "Ask the Experts" series
Topic: TBD
Date: February

Talk at Kellett School
Topic: "Faith"
Venue: Wah Fu, Pokfulam
Date: February
Time: TBD

Moderator at screening of documentary "The Helper"
Venue: BNP Paribas, Two IFC
Date: 28 February
Time: 11:30am - 2:30pm

Speaker at Wimler Foundation legal workshop
Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture"
Venue: Philippine Consulate General, Admiralty
Date: 18 March
Time: TBD

Book launch of 《香港二十: 反思回歸廿載》, Chinese translation of PEN Hong Kong anthology Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections on a Borrowed Place
Venue: TBD
Da…

The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. 
Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singi…

The Joshua I Know 我認識的之鋒

When I shook his hand for the first time, I thought he was the strangest seventeen-year-old I’d ever met.
It was 2014, and considering how much Hong Kong has changed in the last three year, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Joshua sat across from me at a table in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, with his iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other. I ordered him a lemon iced tea with extra syrup.
He was eager to begin our conversation, not because he was excited about being interviewed for my article, but because he wanted to get it over with and get on with the rest of his jam-packed day.
During our 45-minute chat, he spoke in rapid-fire Cantonese, blinking every few seconds in the way robots are programmed to blink like humans. He was quick, precise and focused.

He was also curt.
When I asked him if he had a Twitter account, he snapped, “Nobody uses Twitter in Hong Kong. Next question.”
I wasn’t the least offended by his bluntness—I chalked it up to gumption and precocity. For a te…

When Free Speech Isn't Free 當言論不再自由

The school year had barely begun when two incidents—both testing the limits of free speech on campus—unfolded at Chinese University and Education University and sent management scrambling for a response.
On Monday, at least three large banners bearing the words “Hong Kong independence” were spotted in various locations at Chinese University, including one that draped across the famous “Beacon” sculpture outside the school’s main library. Within hours, the banners were removed by the school authorities.
A few days later, a sign “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin (蔡若蓮) on her son’s recent suicide appeared on Education University’s Democracy Wall, a public bulletin board for students to express opinions and exchange views. Likewise, the sign was taken down shortly thereafter.


That could have been the end of the controversies had university management not succumbed to the temptation to say a few choice words of their own. In the end, it was the reaction from the schoo…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…

Hunger Game 飢餓遊戲

Every Chinese New Year I buy myself a tangerine tree for good luck. Ripe fruits fallen to the ground will mould and turn white and green within 36 hours.
Every Thanksgiving I roast a turkey big enough to feed twelve. Leftovers taste better the next day but will spoil by the week’s end even when kept in the fridge.


The unifying theme of these two unrelated household anecdotes is that unprocessed food does not last. Spoilage is part of nature’s metabolism. So how is it possible that the Valencia oranges on my kitchen counter look exactly the same as they did five weeks ago at the store, or that the expiration date stamped on a can of luncheon meat reads “March 2018”? I can’t help but wonder what really is in our food.
Our appetite for things that taste better, look nicer, last longer and cost less, from breakfast cereal to meat products and fresh produce, is insatiable. Consumer demand has spurred the growing use of pesticides, flavorings, colorings and preservatives in the food indu…