Last Saturday, the June 4 Memorial Museum opened in Hong Kong. In the fifth floor of an unassuming office building, the 800-square foot museum documents the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, and commemorates the hundreds of lives lost (and the thousands injured) after the Chinese government’s crackdown.
As one of my sources told me: “In a debate where Beijing is charged (rightly) with lying about the past, getting the details right can really matter.” These details, such as who was hurt or killed (not merely student protestors, but also civilians and citizens sympathetic to the protest’s message) and where those abuses were committed (the military drove people into the streets surrounding Tiananmen Square). These little details, if missed, provide some parties with ammunition to deny the “history” of an event; it gives semantic weight to assertions by the Communist Party of China that, no, there were no actual deaths in Tiananmen Square, even if there were many near Tiananmen Square.
Whether marveling at the power of belief and the unwillingness of museum supporters (not to mention the Hong Kong Alliance who created the museum) to stand behind their message, I was struck most by Saturday’s comment by Johnny Lau, a journeyman journalist who reported from Tiananmen in 1989.
When I asked about the pro-Communist protestors who had amassed outside the museum’s entrance, he said. “Regardless of their message, at least they have the right to protest here.”