Hong Kong police clash with protesters on Tiananmen anniversary

Hong Kong police clash with protesters after thousands defied a ban to mark the 31st anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown

  • Black-clad citizens today gathered at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in defiance of a police ban on a mass vigil
  • They broke through barricades to mourn the young pro-democracy protesters killed in Beijing on June 4, 1989
  • Police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters after thousands amassed despite the ban, witnesses said
  • The event is the most censored topic in mainland China and saw tanks and troops targeting their own people 
  • Hong Kongers had kept memories alive for 30 years, but this year’s vigil was banned out of ‘health concerns’  
  • Officials’ rejection has sparked fears that Hong Kong’s promised freedoms are eroding due to Beijing’s grip
  • Comes as the city’s lawmakers approved a Beijing-backed bill criminalising insults to China’s national anthem 

Hong Kong police have clashed with protesters after thousands defied a ban to mark the 31st anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Officers fired pepper spray to disperse protesters who defied an official ban and gathered in a park to mark the 31st anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on democracy students.

The scuffles broke out in the working-class Mong Kok district when demonstrators tried to set up roadblocks with metal barriers and officers used spray to dispel them, according to Reuters witnesses. 

Earlier, thousands flouted police’s order, broke through barricades and amassed at the city’s Victoria Park with candles to pay tribute to the victims of the 1989 violence. 

On Twitter, Hong Kong police said that ‘some black-clad protesters are blocking roads in Mongkok. … Police officers are now making arrests.’ They urged people not to gather in groups because of the coronavirus.

In a separate Facebook post, police said the situation in Mongkok was dangerous and chaotic, and that it used the ‘minimum required force’ in response.

After the vigil in Victoria Park, groups of protesters dressed in black carried flags that said ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times’ as well as ‘Hong Kong Independence’.

‘We all know the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government really don’t want to see the candle lights in Victoria Park,’ said Wu’er Kaixi, a former student leader who was number two on the government’s most-wanted list following the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents attended a rally commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Rally attendees chanted slogans, lit candles and held a moment of silence in remembrance of the day

Undercover police arrested attendees during a memorial vigil in Mongkok on June 4 in Hong Kong. Thousands gathered for the annual memorial vigil in Victoria Park to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre despite a police ban citing coronavirus social distancing restrictions

After 31 consecutive years, Hong Kong remembered the conflicts that occurred in Beijing in 1989 surrounded by a tense climate with China and with the outbreak of the Coronavirus still active in the city. The gathering was banned, but still thousands of people have gathered in Victoria Park

Thousands gathered for the annual memorial vigil in Victoria Park to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre despite a police ban citing coronavirus social distancing restrictions

Protesters hold their candles during a moment of silence on the 31st Anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre


Hong Kong residents have defied a ban to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. Hong Kong, ruled under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, was the only place in China that could mark the bloodbath. The picture (left) shows a candlelight vigil on June 4, 2019 and the picture (right) shows a view of Hong Kong’s Victoria park on June 4, 2020

Activists hold a candlelit remembrance outside Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4 after police banned the mass gathering

One participant holds a flag bearing the words ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’, a slogan of the ongoing pro-democracy protests in the Asian financial hub. Police blocked the vigil on public health grounds because of coronavirus

People walk over barriers, which were set up to prevent access to Victoria park, to attend a candlelit vigil commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong on Thursday. The vigil has been banned by police

People holding umbrellas try to bring down barriers set up to prevent access to Victoria park to attend a candlelit vigil commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong on June 4

The Tiananmen crackdown is the most censored topic by China’s ruling Communist Party who paints the young participants as anti-government rioters aiming to overthrow their regime. Hong Kong was the only place that could mark the incident

Pro-democracy activists have defied a police ban and come to mourn those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown outside Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Thursday. Police rejected the application of a mass vigil, which had been running for 30 years

Chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and former Legislative Council member, Lee Cheuk-yan (central), leads a candlelit remembrance with other activists outside Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Thursday

Hong Kongers had kept memories alive for the past three decades by holding a huge annual vigil until this year’s official ban

The semi-autonomous city had for three decades seen huge vigils to remember those killed when China’s communist leaders deployed its military into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to crush a student-led movement for democratic reforms in June, 1989

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, who have been waging a long struggle against what they see as China’s tightening grip on the city, were determined to make their voices heard even though authorities have forbidden a mass gathering

Critics accused Beijing of stifling freedoms on the semi-autonomous territory after authorities blocked an annual mass vigil at a time of seething anger over a planned new security law. 

Police made at least four arrests after clashing with protesters between Portland Street and Argyle Street in Mong Kok, according to South China Morning Post. 

Hundreds and possibly thousands of people were killed on the Tiananmen Square when tanks and troops moved in on the night of June 3-4, 1989, to break up weeks of student-led protests that had spread to other cities and were seen as a threat to Communist Party rule. 

The event is the most censored topic by China’s ruling Communist Party who paints the young participants as anti-government rioters aiming to overthrow their regime.

Hong Kongers have kept memories alive for the past three decades by holding a huge annual vigil, the only part of China where such mass displays of remembrance are possible.

But this year’s service was banned on public health grounds because of the coronavirus pandemic with barricades surrounding Victoria Park, the traditional ceremony venue, and police patrolling nearby.

However, the official order has not deterred Hong Kong people.  

The bloodbath has been immortalised by the above picture called the ‘Tank Man’, which shows a student holding bags of grocers standing in front of a row of tanks to protest at the clampdown by the armies against its own people. The picture was taken by photographer Jeff Widener of the Associated Press from a sixth-floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel near Tiananmen 

A protester raises his British National Overseas (BNO) passports during today’s candlelight vigil. Boris Johnson has said that he would ‘willingly’ offer three million people from Hong Kong visa-free refuge in the UK if China erodes human rights there

Protesters wearing protective face masks take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Police have reportedly made at least arrests during clashes

Social media footage shows a lone Hong Kong man earlier today kneeling in front of a barricaded Victoria Park to show his respect to the thousands of victims of the bloody event. This year’s annual vigil was supposed to take place in the park

A tweet accompanying the video reads: ‘If anyone thinks ban and barriers can stop the mourning and memories…’ 

People in 2019 attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong to mark the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

Social media footage shows a Hong Kong man earlier today kneeling in front of a barricaded Victoria Park by himself to show his respect to the thousands of victims of the bloody event.

A tweet accompanying the video reads: ‘If anyone thinks ban and barriers can stop the mourning and memories…’ 

Another clip shows students at Hong Kong University wearing black T-shirts and observing a minute’s silence to show their respect to the young protesters in the Chinese capital city 31 years ago. 

China’s communist rulers forbid discussion on the mainland of the Tiananmen crackdown, during which hundreds — by some estimates more than a thousand — people were killed. Pictured, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and former Legislative Council member, Lee Cheuk-yan (centre L), leads a candlelit remembrance

With democracy all but snuffed out in mainland China, the focus has shifted increasingly to semi-autonomous Hong Kong, where authorities for the first time banned an annual candlelight vigil marking the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown 

Hong Kong was engulfed by seven straight months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year — rallies that kicked off five days after the last annual vigil. Pictured, a man wearing a protective face mask looks on in today’s vigil

A 74-year-old man who gave his surname as Yip told AFP inside the Victoria Park: ‘I’ve come here for the vigil for 30 years in memory of the victims of the June 4 crackdown, but this year it is more significant to me.’ 

He added: ‘Because Hong Kong is experiencing the same kind of repression from the same regime, just like what happened in Beijing.’

Some of the people in the park wore black t-shirts with the word ‘Truth’ emblazoned in white. Others shouted pro-democracy slogans including: ‘Stand with Hong Kong’.

Police maintained a presence near the park but did not move to disperse the protesters.

University students wearing black T-shirts observe a minute of silence before cleaning the Pillar of Shame, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot to remember the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing, at The University of Hong Kong

Students at Hong Kong University observe a minute’s silence on Thursday to pay tribute to the young protesters killed in 1989

University students clean the Pillar of Shame, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot to remember the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing, at Hong Kong University

The commemorations fell on another febrile day of political tension in the semi-autonomous city as lawmakers approved a Beijing-backed bill criminalising insults to China’s national anthem.

Pro-democracy politicians refused to cast their ballots with one throwing a foul-smelling liquid on the floor in a bid to halt proceedings and others shouting slogans as the votes were cast.

Opponents say the law is the latest move by Beijing to snuff out the city’s cherished freedoms and have rallied around the symbolism of the law being passed on the anniversary of Tiananmen.

Open discussion of the brutal suppression is forbidden in mainland China where hundreds — by some estimates more than a thousand — died when the Communist Party sent tanks into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 to crush a student-led demonstration calling for democratic reforms.

Organisers have called for residents to instead light candles of remembrance at 8pm (1200 GMT) wherever they are.

‘I don’t believe it’s because of the pandemic. I think it’s political suppression,’ a 53-year-old man surnamed Wong, told AFP after kneeling by the park barricades to pay respects to the dead.

‘I do worry that we may lose this vigil forever.’

On the campus of Hong Kong University, students spent the afternoon cleaning a memorial to the Tiananmen dead known as ‘The Pillar of Shame’.

Hong Kong riot police set up a checkpoint near the Legislative Council on the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown

Protesting Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers (facing) are blocked by security (bottom) during debate on a law banning insulting China’s national anthem

Crowds have swelled at Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigils whenever fears have spiked that Beijing is prematurely stamping out the city’s own cherished freedoms, an issue that has dominated the finance hub for the past 12 months 

Students clean the Pillar of Shame, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot to remember the victims of the crackdown

Hong Kong security law in the hands of China

Crowds have swelled at Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigils whenever fears have spiked that Beijing is prematurely stamping out the city’s own cherished freedoms, an issue that has dominated the finance hub for the past 12 months.

The city was engulfed by seven straight months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year — rallies that kicked off five days after the last annual vigil.

In response to those demonstrations last month Beijing announced plans to impose the security law, which would cover secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference.

China says the law — which will bypass Hong Kong’s legislature — is needed to tackle ‘terrorism’ and ‘separatism’ in a restless city it now regards as a direct national security threat.

Opponents, including many Western nations, fear it will bring mainland-style political oppression to a business hub supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after the 1997 handover from Britain.

– Blackout on mainland –

With the Victoria Park vigil banned, Hong Kongers are organising locally and getting creative, chiefly with the scattered candle-light ceremonies.

Seven Catholic churches have also announced plans to host a commemorative mass on Thursday evening.

But in mainland China, the crackdown is greeted by an information blackout, with censors scrubbing mentions of protests and dissidents often visited by police ahead of June 4.

Police in Beijing prevented an AFP photographer from entering Tiananmen Square to record the regular pre-dawn flag-raising ceremony on Thursday and ordered him to delete some photos.

The candle emoji has been unavailable in recent days on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

The United States and Taiwan issued statements calling on China to atone for the deadly crackdown.

‘Around the world, there are 365 days in a year. Yet in China, one of those days is purposely forgotten each year,’ Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a photo of him meeting prominent Tiananmen survivors as US racial justice protests continue.

On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry described calls for Beijing to apologise for the crackdown as ‘complete nonsense’.

‘The great achievements since the founding of new China over the past 70 or so years fully demonstrates that the developmental path China has chosen is completely correct,’ spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

What led to China’s Tiananmen crackdown in 1989?

Over seven weeks in 1989, student-led pro-democracy protests centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square became China’s greatest political upheaval since the end of the Cultural Revolution more than a decade earlier.

Corruption among the elite was a key complaint, but the protesters were also calling for a more open and fair society, one that would require the ruling Communist Party to relinquish control over many aspects of life, including education, employment and even the size of families.

The Chinese government has never given a clear account of how many were killed and has squelched discussion of the events in the years since.

This file photo taken on June 5, 1989 shows large Chinese troops and tanks gathering in the capital city Beijing, one day after the military crackdown that ended a seven week pro-democracy demonstration on Tiananmen Square, known as the crackdown

China’s defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, last year defended the mass killing of unarmed students in a rare official response to the event.

He claimed it was ‘correct’ for Beijing to send troops and tanks to crack down on young protesters because of the great changes the country has experienced since then.

Below is a timeline of the events that led to the military intervention on the night of June 3-4, 1989, and the aftermath.

APRIL 15: Hu Yaobang’s death ignites demonstrations 

In this June 4, 1989 file photo, a student protester puts barricades in the path of an already burning armoured personnel carrier that rammed through student lines during an army attack on anti-government demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square

A leading liberal voice in the ruling Communist Party, Hu Yaobang had been deposed as general secretary by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1987. 

Deng held Hu responsible for campus demonstrations calling for political reforms. His death from a heart attack in 1989 attracted mourners to Tiananmen Square. They called for continuing his reformist legacy and opposing corruption, nepotism and a decline in living conditions. 

The number of protesters swelled into the thousands in the days afterward, and spread to cities and college campuses outside Beijing, deeply alarming Deng, Hu’s successor Zhao Ziyang, and other party leaders.

APRIL 25: Editorial revives protests

The protests had begun to wane after 10 days but were re-energised by an editorial read out on state television on April 25. In this early June 4, 1989 photo civilians hold rocks as they stand on a government armoured vehicle near Changan Boulevard 

The protests had begun to wane after 10 days but were re-energised by an editorial read out on state television on April 25 and published in the official People’s Daily newspaper the next day.

Titled ‘The Necessity for a Clear Stand Against Turmoil’, it described the protests as a ‘well-planned plot’ to overturn Communist rule. The tone of the editorial raised the strong possibility that participants could be arrested and tried on national security charges. Following its publication, protests broke out in cities around China.

The text appeared to closely follow the 84-year-old Deng’s views on the protests, as chronicled in The Tiananmen Papers, a 2001 book edited by American scholars Andrew Nathan and Perry Link and believed to be based on documents sourced from government archives.

MAY 13: Student hunger strikes 

In this April 21, 1989 file photo, tens of thousands of students and citizens crowd at the Martyr’s Monument at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square

Frustrated by government indifference to their demands and the potential consequences of the April editorial, student leaders launched a hunger strike to demand substantive dialogue with the nation’s leaders and recognition of their movement as patriotic and democratic.

The strike drew attention from noted intellectuals including Dai Qing, who praised the students’ ideals, but called on them to have patience and to abandon Tiananmen Square temporarily to allow a groundbreaking visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to proceed smoothly.

The students rejected the suggestion, and a formal welcoming ceremony for Gorbachev was canceled in what was seen as a huge loss of face for the government. 

FILE: In this May 17, 1989, file photo, Tiananmen Square is filled with thousands during a pro-democracy rally, in Beijing, China. Over seven weeks in 1989, student-led pro-democracy protests centred on the Tiananmen Square in the capital city Beijing

June 3-4: Troops move to clear Square 

Having decided that armed force was needed to end the protests and uphold Communist rule, the leadership ordered in the army, a move that would send in an estimated 180,000 troops and armed police. 

The commander of the 38th army, who was entrusted with the task, refused to follow orders and checked himself into a hospital. Soldiers faced resistance from Beijing residents, especially in the western neighbourhoods of Muxidi and Xidan. 

Troops on the ground and in tanks and armoured vehicles fired into crowds as they pushed toward the square through makeshift barricades. Trucks, buses and military vehicles were set on fire and some troops killed citizens as they vented their rage. 

FILE – In this June 5, 1989 file photo, Chinese troops and tanks gather in Beijing, one day after the military crackdown that ended a seven week pro-democracy demonstration on Tiananmen Square. Hundreds were killed in the early morning hours of June 4

FILE – In this June 5, 1989 file photo, a Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Changan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square. The man was calling for an end to the recent violence and bloodshed against pro-democracy demonstrators

As troops closed the cordon around Tiananmen Square, a cohort of student die-hards refused to leave until persuaded to by other leaders, including Taiwanese singer Hou Dejian. 

City hospitals filled up with the dead and wounded. Hundreds, possibly thousands, were believed killed in Beijing and other cities during the night and in the ensuing roundup of those accused of related crimes. 

There has never been an official accounting of the casualties.

FILE – In this Saturday, June 3, 1989 file photo, a student pro-democracy protester flashes victory signs to the crowd as People’s Liberation Army troops withdraw on the west side of the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square in Beijing

The aftermath

The army’s crackdown was widely condemned in the West, as well as in Hong Kong, then a British colony, where supporters organised missions to bring those wanted by authorities to safety. 

On June 13, Beijing police issued a most-wanted notice for 21 student leaders, 14 of whom were arrested. 

No. 1 on the list was 20-year-old Wang Dan, who was subsequently given a four-year prison sentence but released early. 

By 1992, most of China’s overseas relationships had been restored and Deng used his remaining personal influence to relaunch economic reforms that ushered in a new era of growth while the party ruthlessly enforced its monopoly on political power. 

By 1992, most of China’s overseas relationships had been restored and Deng used his remaining personal influence to relaunch economic reforms. The file picture shows the then-Chinese President Deng Xiaoping pictured on a huge advertisement board

The government has never expressed regret over the killings and rejected all calls for an investigation, leaving the protests an open wound in Chinese history. Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldier guards close the way to Tiananmen Gate on May 28

The protests, first labeled a ‘counterrevolutionary riot,’ are now merely referred to as ‘political turmoil,’ when they are referred to at all, as the party tries to suppress all memory of them having occurred. 

The government has never expressed regret over the killings and rejected all calls for an investigation, leaving the protests an open wound in Chinese history. 

Asked if he had any comment about the anniversary at a briefing last year, defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said he didn’t agree with the use of the word ‘suppression’ to describe the military action, but offered no alternative. 

‘I think over the 30 years, what we have achieved in reform and opening up and development has already answered your question,’ Qian said. 

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