Explainer: Hong Kong bans vigil on anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre

June 4, 2020

In an unprecedented move, Hong Kong canceled the annual vigil held in honor of the victims killed by the Chinese military at a 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square. Today marks the 31st anniversary of the tragedy.    This decision follows closely on the heels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders’ move to impose a new draconian security law on Hong Kong. This puts the individual liberties of Hongkongers at risk. The Hong Kong authorities cited fears of spreading COVID-19 as the reasons for the cancelation.  

Held annually for the past 30 years, the vigil represents the significance of democracy and freedom to Hongkongers and has often served to represent other causes beyond the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The New York Times states that “The annual vigil also has acted as a gauge of whether Hong Kong can maintain the political freedoms that have become part of its identity, guaranteed under a policy known as “one country, two systems,” which was put in place when Britain returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997.”

The Tiananmen Square Massacre remains one of the most censored topics on the Chinese internet. Chinese censorship, nicknamed “The Great Firewall,” has blocked all mentions of the event, related words and topics, and even references to the date, June 4, 2019. Below are a few other banned terms in China that could bring up information about Tiananmen Square:

China is seeking to remake Hong Kong in its own image, and freedom-loving men and women on the island-city and around the world are concerned. Hongkongers have watched how the communist government treats its citizens, severely restricting their freedoms of religion, assembly, and speech The recent decision made by Beijing to bypass the Hong Kong legislature and impose new restrictions continued to raise grave concerns for Hong Kongers. Historically China and Hong Kong have operated as “one country with two systems”, yet China blatantly disregarded this precedent in passing this legislation.  

Many Hongkongers have chosen to gather and participate in vigils around Hong Kong. Given the recent political action taken by mainland China, choosing to engage with this movement takes courage.  

Writing about the Tiananmen Square protestors, Russell Moore acknowledged the courage held by the lone man who stood in front of Chinese tanks 31 years ago. Moore acknowledged that what is most striking “about this image is that he was not, in that moment, part of a mob or a riot or an army. It was just him, unarmed and unaccompanied;” this lone person had no crowd, no pack. “Courage,” Moore continues, “biblically defined, includes both . . . a redefinition of power and a reshaping of community”. The lone ‘tank man’ inspired both his nation and the world with his courage in the face of tyranny. Imagine the power of the whole city of Hong Kong coming together to remember both the struggles of the past, as well as the struggles of today. May the people of Hong Kong continue to have the courage to stand up for what’s right and true.  


  Policy intern Seth Billingsley contributed to this article.