Now, I know that this post has nothing to do with urban religion – but it does deserve a small post on my site: The commemoration of the June 4th student massacre of 1989, and the evening vigil held in Hong Kong last night to commemorate this. As every year, there has been much controversy around the vigil – and for me personally the commemoration is too political and too much focused on the “bad current Beijing government” instead of actually remembering the happenings of 4 June 1989. But it was nonetheless a beautiful evening.
The vigil is being held in Victoria Park, a large park where several tens of thousands of people can gather together. I arrive in Causeway Bay around 7pm – an hour before the actual vigil is supposed to take place – together with thousands of other people. Luckily, this is Hong Kong, which means everything is extremely well organized. The crowd (me included) is being lead into Victoria Park by several dozens of police men. On our way there, we pass many people that are promoting their political party’s ideas regarding democracy and freedom in mainland China and Hong Kong. There are some famous political party leaders – I recognize them from pictures in the newspapers, or assume they are famous by the amount of Hong Kong people making pictures of them. I see posters with the face of Che Guevara, people wearing T-Shirts with the painting of Edvard Munch (‘The scream’), a man with the words ‘Death of the nation’ sprayed on his shirt, and a banner saying ‘Don’t be accomplish of the CCP’. The rest is mainly in traditional Chinese, and so hard for me to understand.
I arrive in Victoria Park about fifteen minutes later. More political party members are handing out pamphlets, stickers, newspapers, DVDs – everything you can think off. A volunteer gives me a candle, and I take place on one of the sports fields of the park amongst many other people. We all sit down, waiting for… I’m not sure for what we are waiting – everything is in Cantonese.
Around 7.30pm, everybody starts lighting their candles. Songs are being sung on the big stage far ahead, and on the screen nearby I can see what’s going on. People sing along, listen to another woman on stage sharing her story of 4 June 1989, and just sit there. Everything is quiet and peaceful.
Untill, about five minutes before 8, Heaven opens up its flood gates, and rain comes pooring down. Within a few minutes, everybody is standing up, shielded under umbrellas. The umbrellas don’t seem to work too well however, and around 8.10pm everybody is soaked. All the candles are out. Gusts of wind are coming at us every few minutes from every direction, met by the cheers and laughter of the people around me. Every now and then, the sky lights up with lightning. At the same time, people keep singing the song of ‘Let the Flower of Freedom bloom’, and yelling phrases like ‘Rebel against the One Party System’ and ‘Justice!’. Even though it’s pooring rain and thundering mad, the atmosphere is incredible.
Around a quarter to 9 the rain is getting lighter, and people start lighting their candles again. Since the heavy weather caused a power black-out, its hard to hear at first what’s going on – but the problem gets fixed. The big light at the park are dimmed and all we are left with are thousands of small candle lights, a minute of silence, and the powerful singing of a song afterwards. Oh, and goosebumps on my arms.
The 4 June Vigil in Hong Kong is mainly a peaceful protest of Hong Kong people against the mainland Chinese government, and a cry for more democracy, both in the mainland and in Hong Kong. It is a representation of
so much of the ongoing suspicion the city feels towards the mainland government. The annual Victoria Park candle-lit vigil itself has become a pressure valve for all kinds of scepticism, mistrust and often disdain for the Communist Party, well beyond its bloody actions 24 years ago. It is also a rallying point for HK’s ‘core values’ and for the local pro-democracy movement which is campaigning for universal suffrage country-wide (see http://hongwrong.com/hong-kong-candlelit-vigil)
It’s one of those moments in which the boundaries between present-day Hong Kong and mainland China are extra being emphazised. It is therefore a highly political moment, and in my eyes a gathering that almost forgets to commemorate what actually happened on that Wednesday 24 years ago.