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Politics

Permanent museum for Tiananmen crackdown to open in Hong Kong

Lee Cheuk-yan, second from right, helps hold up a painting that depicts key people and moments from the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

HONG KONG -- A museum is set to open in Hong Kong in April about the crackdown by Chinese authorities against student and civilian protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. The effort to create the museum took two years as an activist group in Hong Kong worked to secure a location.

    "This is the only permanent museum (about Tiananmen) under Chinese sovereignty," said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. "It shows the value of Hong Kong in preserving historic truth and freedom."

     Speaking with the Nikkei Asian Review, Lee stressed the significance of the museum. Hong Kong Alliance is best known for organizing the annual candlelight vigil held every June 4 in Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong is under the sovereignty of China, it has a certain degree of autonomy under the "One Country, Two Systems" policy.

     The Alliance has put on two exhibitions in the past two years, and has collected enough donations to buy a 74-sq.-meter room in an office building in East Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. The plan is to display photos, videos, documents, maps, art works and other visual materials related to the crackdown.

     "In (mainland) China, the whole historic truth behind June 4th and the Tiananmen massacre are banned completely from the knowledge of the people," Lee said. "So by coming to Hong Kong, (mainland Chinese) can understand the truth."

Crucial timing

The government in Beijing officially refers to the events surrounding June 4, 1989, as "political turmoil," and refers to its crackdown as action against "counterrevolutionary riots."

     The Alliance says it wants to not only inform people from mainland China, but also to educate younger generations in Hong Kong. "People will be shocked when they see (videos of) tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square, and they will also be moved by the determination of students pursuing democracy," Lee said.

     According to Lee, about 6 million Hong Kong dollars (US$774,000) in donations were collected from various people, including overseas Chinese and people from the mainland. This is only enough to cover part of the cost. Monthly mortgage payments for the museum's location run HK$20,000. The Alliance is planning to charge entrance fees of HK$10-20.

     The museum would open just months before the 25th anniversary of the incident. The opening also coincides with the official consultation for the 2017 chief executive election, which will be concluded by May. The big issue is whether Beijing will allow unrestricted universal suffrage in Hong Kong for the first time.

     "What we worry about is whether China, an authoritarian state, will allow democracy in Hong Kong," Lee said. "Not yet admitting its mistake of June 4th and not yet opening up its society for human rights and freedom, will they allow democracy in Hong Kong? It is very doubtful."

     Beijing is moving "to screen out candidates that they don't like, including people like us who are fighting to end one party rule," said Lee, who is also a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. 

     Another hurdle party officials are putting up for candidates for the post of chief executive is the concept of "loving the country, loving Hong Kong." On the mainland, "loving the country" implies also loving the Chinese Communist Party. Patriotism is therefore a yardstick by which the authorities measure loyalty to the party.

     "We consider ourselves real, true patriots," Lee said. "We just don't love the CCP. We believe in democracy, but the Party is against democracy, so being a true patriot, we must end one party rule."

     "After 25 years, people may be discouraged, but we want people to fight to the end," Lee said.

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