HKUSU June 4th Forum, 2017

‘End of patriotism’: HKU plays host to heated debates on June 4th anniversary

June 04, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Two student-led forums were held today at the University of Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. The events, hosted separately by the Student Union (HKUSU) and China Study Society, invited student leaders, political figures and academics to discuss the contemporary significance of commemorating June 4th.

HKU students have traditionally played a role in commemorative events, including pushing for the Pillar of Shame to be housed on campus. However, today’s forums come at a time of fracture between student activists and older democracy advocates, such as the Hong Kong Alliance and the pan-democrats. HKUSU president Ed Wong Ching-tak has said the union will not attend tonight’s candlelight vigil at Victoria Park, which is organized by the Hong Kong Alliance, due to a “very different understanding” of June 4th.

HKUSU titled its forum, “The Residual Significance of June Fourth Massacre when Patriotism Comes to an End,” and the other forum by China Study Society was titled, “Loving China versus Loving Hong Kong: June 4th shows where the people’s allegiance lies.”

Finding the “highest common factor” between factions

From left: Chan Ho-tin, Joseph Lian Yizheng, Lee Cheuk-yan

From left: Andy Chan Ho-tin, Joseph Lian Yizheng, Lee Cheuk-yan

The HKUSU forum invited Lee Cheuk-yan, the secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance; Andy Chan Ho-tin, convenor of the Hong Kong National Party; and Joseph Lian Yizheng, a well-known current affairs commentator.

Responding to the forum’s theme, Lee said it is an individual’s “personal choice” on whether to feel patriotic, and he would not request everyone to attend the candlelight vigil. However, he urged the people of Hong Kong to continue sympathizing with those in China fighting for democracy, since the civic society of Hong Kong cannot be “broken off” from its Chinese counterpart. The Hong Kong Alliance, represented by Lee, includes “building a democratic China” as one of its longstanding goals.

Chan disagreed that Hong Kong people have any responsibility for China’s democratic future. He said locals should not be pressured into commemorating June 4th as a form of “political correctness,” and accused the Hong Kong Alliance of relying on “Chinese cultural identity” to gain political capital. Instead, Chan said the focus should be on protecting local interests, since there is no realistic prospect of getting the Chinese Communist Party to become democratic.

Lian, who described himself as a bridge between political ideologies, took the middle path. He said Hong Kong people should not abandon commemoration of June 4th, but should find a meaning in it beyond patriotism and democracy. One possible method was to use June 4th as a “reminder of the Chinese Communist Party’s capacity for violence.” June 4th is an “important resource” for the resistance movement, Lian said, and warned against diminishing its strength.

As the topic turned to the future of June 4th commemoration, it became clear that the Hong Kong Alliance is struggling to find common ground with localist voices, and their way of conducting the candlelight vigil has prompted backlash.

Lee said the Hong Kong Alliance tried very hard to adjust their program to be inclusive, but will not give up the core ideal of “ending one-party rule.” He said this message is not in conflict with localist viewpoints, since Hong Kong Alliance is asking for locals to unite with the Chinese people to “fight a common enemy,” the Chinese Communist Party. Lian countered that the theme for the candlelight vigil can be even more “abstract,” so that the event will not be seen as pushing a pro-China political platform.

Debate over June 4th history at China Study Society forum

From left: Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, Chan Tin-hung, Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, China Study Society moderator, Chang Ka-mun, Cheng Yu-shek

From left: Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, Chan Man-hung, Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, China Study Society moderator, Chang Ka-mun, Cheng Yu-shek. The Pillar of Shame is in the background.

The China Study Society‘s event featured five guests from across the political spectrum: Chang Ka-mun, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference; Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, a former student leader; Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, the convenor of the pan-democrat coalition Alliance for True Democracy; Chan Man-hung, a business professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a journalist covering China.

Much time at the forum was spent on how to classify the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Chang, who has previously denied the existence of a June 4th massacre, said that student protesters provoked the government into a violent response, and caused the deaths of soldiers. He also accused the Hong Kong Alliance of “spreading hate” against China, which led to fewer people in Hong Kong identifying as Chinese.

Members of the panel, including Lui and Cheung, rejected that argument as false, claiming that the majority of casualties on June 4th were civilians. The two also criticized the Chinese government for failing to investigate the incident properly.

The HKUSU forum can be viewed in full here. The China Study Society forum can be viewed in full here. Both events were covered live on Twitter at @holmeschan_.


Law and literature student at HKU.