On a humid Saturday afternoon, the cool, cramped June 4th Memorial Museum, the first permanent exhibition space dedicated to the Tiananmen protests of 1989, was buzzing with the inquisitive young students from the Hong Kong University and a local secondary school looking suitably solemn in their starched uniforms were listening to a volunteer talking about the events that shook China through a summer of protests that year.
The museum walls are plastered end-to-end with photos, posters, newspaper clippings and comments about the event. In a tiny corner with chairs for about 10 people, a documentary was on about the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of mothers who lost their children to the protests, many of them shot dead by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers.
Footage of student leaders roaring into their microphones about democracy and freedom played on another television; the documentary, The Tank Man, was playing on a computer.
The museum is barely 800 square feet in size but has a collection of “exhibits, artefacts and over 1000 archival, digital or film based material”. It was on June 4, 1989, that army made their final move into the Tiananmen Square to clear it of the demonstrators, allegedly killing hundreds in the process.
One exhibit is a particularly brutal reminder: a motorcycle helmet with a bullet hole.
At the counter, T-shirts, mugs, CDs and USB drives – containing much information about the protests – were for sale. “We want visitors to buy the (computer) drives and take them everywhere and also to the Mainland,” a volunteer said.
Located in a narrow lane in downtown HK, the museum, initiated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (The HK Alliance) opened end of April weeks before the 25th year of the massacre. It attracts about 200 visitors daily, many of them students born after 1989.
“I wanted to know more about the incident. I knew some people died. I wanted to know how and why,” bespectacled engineering student, Alexander Ho said.
His University friend, Yoko Tam, said after the museum opened, a lot of information on the protests can now be found at one place.
“Most Chinese people have a very blurred remembrance that something happened on June 4 – especially if they are young,” Lee Cheuk-yan, Legislative Council member and chairman of the Alliance, told HK Time Out after the museum opened, adding: “It’s a vacuum that we are trying to fill.”
The situation is markedly different in HK compared to the Mainland, say in city like Beijing. The younger generation on the Mainland have little or no idea about what happened 25 years ago in the heart of their city.
“We have friends from the Mainland studying with us. Most have no idea about the events,” Christ Hui, another student said.
That’s precisely what the Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership wants – to scrub clean any memory of the crackdown from the public narrative. And that’s what this museum and those behind are fighting against.