Monday, June 21, 2021

Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square Museum forced to close two days before memorial


Hong Kong (CNN) – Hong KongThe U.S.’s most controversial destination has been forced to close two days ago Important date in the global pro-democracy calendar.
Housed inside a non-descript high-rise building between a gas station and a highway overpass in Kowloon, the 4th June Museum is the only museum in Greater China – which includes mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan – that has been exposed to Beijing government action. Reminds students against protesters Tiananmen Square in 1989.

On 1 June, Hong Kong officials from the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene (FEHD) visited the museum in the working-class area of ​​Mong Kok and accused the organizers of illegally operating a “place of public entertainment”.

“Our department recently received a complaint that someone in a unit in a commercial building on Mong Kok Road was operating an entertainment venue without the required license,” FEHD told CNN in a statement.

He said this license is required for all businesses that “entertain people”, even if they charge money as entry fees. The museum was free to visit.

Some supporters have left flowers outside the closed doors of the museum before June 4.

Courtesy June 4 Museum/Twitter

The timing was striking, days before the anniversary of June 4, when tens of thousands of hong kongers People usually gather in Victoria Park to remember those killed in action.

The vigil was canceled last year due to the coronavirus outbreak, and a court on Saturday backed the police’s decision to cancel the event again this year for the same reason.

The next day, the organizers of the June 4 Museum, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Patriotic Democratic Movements (commonly called just the Hong Kong Alliance), invited patrons to plant flowers at the museum to mark the day.

It was a risky move in a city that is now under national security law (NSL). Imposed by Beijing last June, it gives authorities broad power to detain people accused of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.

The president of the museum, Lee Cheuk-yan, saw that trouble was coming. Back in March, he gave CNN a tour of the museum and predicted that the NASL might soon close it for good.

“(NSL) is always like a knife hanging around your neck,” Lee said. “We don’t know when it will hit us.”

power of things

Lee will spend June 4 this year behind bars. In April, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for organizing and participating in unauthorized government protests in 2019. He has to face further charges for other works.

Before the sentencing, Lee met with CNN after a long day at the High Court in West Kowloon. Despite the threat of a prison sentence, he was in remarkably good spirits.

He walked CNN through some of his favorite pieces on display. Many were donated to the museum by Tiananmen Mothers, a Chinese activist group made up of parents and loved ones of those killed during the June 4 protests.

The most moving pieces are personal – a Peking University T-shirt signed by activists, a shot taken from the leg of a labor organizer, a camera owned by a student that was shot while photographing the day’s events, and photographs. of the same student The parents were developed posthumously.

Sculptures of the Goddess of Democracy were displayed in the museum.

Statues of the Goddess of Democracy, a statue created during the Tiananmen Square protests and later destroyed, are for sale at the museum on June 4.

Chan Long Hei / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

“The museum is only part of our work,” Lee explained. He knows that despite the name of the museum, the movement doesn’t happen in just one day. “We are first trying to organize activity programs around the 4th of June commemoration. Therefore, every year the 4th of June commemorates the commemoration, and the March before that too. In addition to the 4th June commemoration, we have organized the release of dissidents inside Also supported a campaign for China.”

There will be little, if any, vigilance this year due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Hong Kong police force clarified May 29 tweet That disobeying the rules will not be tolerated: “The law banning gatherings of 4+ ppl is still in force. The public should not participate/advertise/promote unauthorized gatherings!”

In response, the Hong Kong Alliance issued a statement on Twitter confirming that it was forced to cancel the vigil. However, it added, “Despite this, the Coalition believes that no matter how much the regime engages in repression, the candlelight will never disappear as long as the people remember.”

The June 4 Museum’s spring exhibition was about how the events in Tiananmen Square reflected the protests of the past few years in Hong Kong. Both movements were led by young people, and sought a retreat against the ruling Communist Party of China and media censorship.

Some of the recent artifacts in the museum’s collection are from the Yellow Umbrella Movement of 2014 and the recent protests in Hong Kong. These include a rendition of Pepe the Frog, a right-wing online meme that has been distorted and adopted by the anti-Beijing camp in recent years, and the protective gear worn by the students holding the event. Attempts to acquire Hong Kong Polytechnic University In 2019.

Lee says that some museum guests simply want to be left alone with their thoughts. Others ask questions or defend China’s actions.

the man behind the mission

Li was born in 1957 in Shanghai to a family with roots in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong. He moved to Hong Kong as a youth while the city was still a British colony – first to attend university, then to work as a labor worker.

The Hong Kong Alliance was founded in 1989, inspired by the June 4th Movement. Again, the group’s primary concern was looking at the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese in 1997, and how this would affect life and politics in the city.

“At the time, Hong Kong people were heavily mobilized and relocated by students to China,” he says of the pro-democracy movements taking place on the mainland at the time. “Personally, I am very glad that people in China started fighting for democracy. If there is democracy in China, then certainly there is democracy in Hong Kong.”

The Hong Kong Alliance is often labeled as anti-Chinese, which Li dislikes. Despite spending most of his adult life in Hong Kong, he considers himself Chinese, regularly mentions how much he loves China and is proud of his heritage.

What the coalition wants is not the end of China. Its stated goal is an end to the single-party rule of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and opening up the country to different viewpoints and political parties.

The June 4 protest in 1989 was part of a movement that was growing across China and demanding exactly that. The extreme events of Tiananmen Square began on 15 April, following the sudden death of Hu Yaobang, a reform-minded former CCP leader who had been deposed a few years earlier. When Hu died, a group of people – mostly college students from Peking University – gathered to mourn publicly in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. The mourning turned into a cry for action as protesters pushed for government reform and a move to democracy.

Visitors look at artifacts recovered from the scene of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on display at the June 4 Museum in Hong Kong on June 4, 2019.

Visitors check out the artifacts on display at the museum on June 4.

Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

One day’s action turned into weeks, with some students going on hunger strike. More people flocked to the square, and the crowd became bigger and more vocal.

The word “Tianmen” means “gate of heavenly peace” in Mandarin. As the crowd grew, the Chinese army marched on the square on 4 June, arresting and killing several activists.

Today, discussion of those events is taboo in mainland China. The June 4th museum in Hong Kong was important to those remembering that day in Greater China and beyond.

Travelers from all over the world have visited it, leaving Post-it notes with messages in various languages ​​to build a Lennon Wall that has popped up around Hong Kong in support of the city’s recent pro-democracy movement. Some of these, such as those at the University of Hong Kong, are still in operation, but others have been removed by police.

Despite greetings from Australia, Finland, Japan and other countries, some of the most touching messages were from Chinese visitors.

“I asked a boy from Beijing, ‘How do you know about our museum? Lee asked a mainland guest. “He said, ‘Of course I know about you and the museum, I censored it. I wrote your address while I was censoring your museum.’ And then he came to visit our museum.”

what will happen next

Lee is in prison, still able to communicate with the Hong Kong Alliance and through his lawyer, issue messages to his supporters. Their only child has gone abroad, perhaps permanently.

The Hong Kong Alliance is concerned that the government could confiscate its assets if the museum is forced to close permanently, so they are working to digitize the entire collection into both English and Chinese.

“The promised democracy never materialised,” Li said, referring to the “one country, two systems” formula that Beijing promised the city to maintain a high degree of autonomy until 2047, including the introduction of universal suffrage. is.

June 4 Museum of Hong Kong Lights

Members of the Hong Kong Alliance often hold lights to stand for the candles on display on 4 June.

Courtesy June 4 Museum/Twitter

But the passage of the National Security Act has dashed that hope.

On April 16, Lee greeted a crowd of supporters outside the courtroom as he prepared to begin his prison term. Wearing a neti button-down shirt, he was also sporting a surgical face mask, which is mandatory in public in Hong Kong to protect against the coronavirus.

shortly before leaving The Jail Van, activist referenced an English-language song by the Rogers and Hammerstein duo that has been adopted by the pro-democracy movement.

“I want to dedicate the song ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ to the people of Hong Kong. We will walk together in the dark with hope in our hearts.” he said.

Lee’s next public appearance will be on June 11, when he will be tried for three additional charges of “inciting, organizing and participating in an unauthorized assembly.”

This year, unable to leave his cell, Lee will go on a one-day hunger strike in prison on June 4 as his personal tribute.

CNN’s Jadin Sham contributed reporting.

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