Remembering Tiananmen

TODAY IS A BAD WORD. No, really.

Over the years, I have fought several editors who have thought the term “June 4” was a term which was too controversial and shocking to print, just like, say, the phrase “I like Justin Bieber”.

Twenty-five years ago on this date the newspaper for which I worked in Hong Kong received lots of weeping eye-witness reports about the authorities re-educating the students with guns and tanks.

From that day on, many of the editors for whom I worked went into severe censorship mode (I won’t actually name Jonathan Fenby, oops).

The “Tiananmen Square massacre” became “the incident”.

In some references, “incident” was further diluted to “accident”.

It was as if Chinese leaders had said, “Oops, ran over the protestors with tanks, silly us.”


Now, every year or two, members of the Hong Kong elite tell us to forget June 4 and move on.

They always seem surprised that we ordinary people of the city react with horror, stamp our feet and say NO.

Solidarity with the youngsters who hoped for a more open China is a key part of Hong Kong’s identity. Because we’re freer than the rest of China, we have a vital role:


The young man with the shopping bags who stopped a row of tanks may be dead. But the image of what he did will inspire people around the globe forever.



For Americans, 9/11 is iconic and for Londoners, 7/7. Bangladeshis remember December 17 and Sri Lankans May 19.

I once encountered an Albanian whose political party was called “The November 8 Communist Party”. This suggests every day of the year has its own communist party in Albania.

Another good reason not to visit Albania.

* Turkey has a political group called September 10 which publishes a magazine also called ‘September 10’. This is kind of weird, because every copy of the magazine carries that date on its cover, which must give rise to lots of misunderstandings.

A: I bought a magazine.

B: Is it September 10?

A: No, I bought it this morning.

B: But is it September 10 magazine?

A: No, it’s the latest issue. I just bought it this morning.


The same country has a political group called June 16.

Eventually there may be an election in which citizens choose whether they want to be ruled by September 10 or June 16. * I am ever grateful that the supporters of Mackenzie Bowell, who won him the job of Canadian Prime Minister in 1894, never formed a group to mark their achievement. It would have been the December 21 Bowell Movement.


Now, 25 years later, I note that an increasingly large number of powerful people in Hong Kong still insist that no one died on June 4 in Beijing. They look stupid. Even the Chinese government admits that at least 240 people were killed, and the Chinese Red Cross puts it at ten times that number.

But I really don’t mind when powerful people make themselves look dumb and dishonest.

They’re just doing my job for me!