How Hong Kong caught fire: the story of a radical uprising
Hong Kong used to be seen as cautious, pragmatic and materialistic. But in the past year, an increasingly bold protest movement has transformed the city. Now, as Beijing tightens its grip, how much longer can the movement survive? By Tania Branigan and Lily Kuo
On 4 June 2020, as darkness enveloped Hong Kong, thousands of people broke through barricades and slipped into the tree-lined Victoria Park in the heart of the city. Shielding their candles from the wind, and carefully sitting 1 metre apart, they filled the length of the open space. The annual Tiananmen Square vigil had been banned, with police citing coronavirus concerns. But Hong Kong was determined to mark the anniversary as it always has. For three decades, the city has been the only place within China where the massacre can be publicly remembered. The commemoration is by far the world’s largest, but also its most vulnerable. Its tiny flames speak to the endurance of hope and memory, and to their looming extinction.
When the People’s Liberation Army massacred hundreds of demonstrators in Beijing on 4 June 1989, the response in Hong Kong was overwhelming. One million or more residents marched in mourning. People from across society – clergymen, activists, Cantopop stars, businesspeople, foreign diplomats, even triad gangs – worked together to smuggle “most wanted” student leaders off the mainland and to safety.