Tiananmen Square anniversary: Hong Kong police detain artist who made sign in the air

Estimated read time 6 min read

Hong Kong police detained an artist on Monday night after he appeared to write “8964” in the air with his hand, a reference to the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, hours before Tuesday’s 35th anniversary.

Public acknowledgment of the events of 4 June 1989, when Chinese soldiers shut down a weeks-long peaceful protest with violence, killing anything from several hundred to several thousand people – is banned in mainland China and increasingly sensitive in Hong Kong.

The artist, Sanmu Chen, was standing outside Causeway Bay station, surrounded by media when he made the apparent tribute to the massacre. He also mimed pouring wine on the ground, in a Chinese tradition mourning the dead.

Police officers soon arrived and moved him into a police bus. A Hong Kong Police spokesperson told the Guardian they received a report about a man “causing a disturbance”. She said he was taken to the police station for inquiries but was later released “unconditionally”.

Later that evening a heavy police presence in the area stopped and searched several people, including a Chinese tourist whose phone flashlight had accidentally come on, and an elderly man was left alone after his daughter was taken away by police, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

“If they want to go after the real trouble makers, go for it. But now they are troubling us the ordinary people,” his wife reportedly said after coming to collect him.

On Tuesday, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was closed. A notice on the ticketing website said reservations to visit the area were suspended for the day, and previously booked tickets could be returned for a refund. A resident told Reuters the main thoroughfare lining the square, Chang’an avenue, was closed to cyclists and pedestrians. The AP reported checkpoints and lines of police vehicles later in the day.

“As to the political disturbance that occurred in the late 1980s, the Chinese government has long had a clear conclusion,” Mao Ning, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said at a regular press conference on Tuesday afternoon, without elaboration. “We are firmly opposed to anyone using this as a pretext to attack and smear China and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

The question and answer did not appear in the ministry’s online transcript.

Tiananmen Mothers, a group formed by families of the victims, made an online appeal to the Chinese government to publish the names and total number of those who died, grant compensation to the victims and their relatives and pursue legal accountability for those responsible.

“The June 4 tragedy is a historical tragedy that the Chinese government must face and explain to its people, and some people in the government at that time should be held legally responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocents,” the group said in a letter signed by 114 family members and published on its website, which is blocked in China.

There was no mention of the 4 June date in Chinese state media, but some China-based English-language accounts on X on Tuesday sought to spread claims that accounts of the massacre were western disinformation. Both X and discussion of 4 June 1989 are banned inside China.

Police search performance artist Sanmu Chen, left, after he traced the Chinese characters of ‘8964’, referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacreView image in fullscreen

However, diaspora groups have planned commemoration events around the world, including in the UK, Australia, the US, and Taiwan. Taiwan’s president, Lai Ching-te, on Tuesday paid respect to the “students and citizens who bravely marched for change”.

“The commemoration of June 4 is not only for the sake of June 4, but also because people around the world who care about democracy and freedom share a common belief: only democracy and freedom can truly protect the people,” he said in a statement shared across social media platforms.

“A truly respectable country allows its people to speak up.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who has visited Beijing twice since last year as he seeks to ease tensions between the two super powers, said Washington would continue to promote human rights in China.

“As Beijing attempts to suppress the memory of June 4, the United States stands in solidarity with those who continue the struggle for human rights and individual freedom,” he said in a statement. “The courage and sacrifice of the people who stood up in Tiananmen Square 35 years ago will not be forgotten.”

On Monday human rights groups said Hong Kong and Chinese authorities had arrested or put under surveillance several dissidents ahead of the date.

Hong Kong police have arrested eight people under a new national security law in relation to accusations they had posted messages with seditious intent ahead of an “upcoming sensitive date”.

A man in Washington DC holds a picture of the late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo during a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacreView image in fullscreen

For three decades, the largest Tiananmen memorial event was held in Hong Kong, but under a tightening crackdown by the city’s government against the pro-democracy movement, that too has been banned. This week two Hong Kong legislators said it was still legal for people to mark the date privately in their homes.

Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing legislator, told the Hong Kong Free Press it was “high time” public commemorations stopped, because some people had “preyed on the emotions of the people and weaponised June 4 commemorations” to stir up hatred against the Chinese government.

However she said: “If a person does anything in private without the intention of inciting hatred of the government, I don’t think an offence is committed.”

Last week Debbie Chan, former pro-democracy legislator who now runs a small shop, said her business had been visited by police and three other government departments after it began giving away memorial candles. Chan said she had also been contacted by a police officer who asked if she was “going for a run” on 4 June, according to Hong Kong Free Press.

Years into the Hong Kong government’s crackdown, the city is now under far tighter control by the Chinese central government. Attempts to organise candlelit vigils across the city and in homes in previous years have resulted in arrests, and residents fear commemorating 4 June will soon become as difficult for them as it is for people in mainland China.

Additional reporting by Chi-hui Lin

Source: theguardian.com

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