Commemorativeelligence: Remembering Tiananmen Square Amid Clampdowns and Erasure

Hong Kong, China: The approaching 35th anniversary of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square crackdown draws attention to the persistence of memories despite attempts to erase them. As the crackdown remains a forbidden topic in mainland China, overseas commemorations have become increasingly vital in preserving the memory of the tragic events of 1989.

Prominent scholar Rowena He, who has been actively speaking out on behalf of those silenced by the crackdown, has faced personal challenges in Hong Kong. The city, once a symbol of commemorative freedom, has experienced a crackdown on dissidents, leading to the disappearance of the annual June 4 vigil that honored the victims for many years.

Despite facing obstacles in Hong Kong, He has continued her mission by traveling to the United States, Britain, and Canada to raise awareness of the events at Tiananmen Square. Overseas activities such as talks, rallies, exhibitions, and plays have emerged in various countries, serving as a beacon of hope in the face of efforts to erase the memory of the crackdown.

In recent years, Hong Kong has witnessed a tightening grip on dissent, with activists facing charges under a national security law imposed in 2020. Even the traditional vigil organizers have disbanded, and statues related to Tiananmen have been removed from universities. Last week, seven individuals in Hong Kong were arrested for allegedly posting social media content about the crackdown.

To counter the erasure of history, efforts to preserve the memory of Tiananmen have extended beyond physical events to include initiatives such as museums dedicated to the crackdown. In New York, a museum featuring exhibits from the protests has attracted a diverse audience, including Chinese immigrants, U.S. citizens, and Hong Kongers.

Overseas memorial events play a crucial role in ensuring that the memories of Tiananmen are not forgotten. These events provide avenues for people around the world to connect with the history and significance of the crackdown. Although there are challenges in adapting these memories to new environments, scholars emphasize the importance of continuing to commemorate such events globally.

In addition to physical memorials, creative endeavors such as film, theater, and television productions have proven to be powerful tools in keeping memories alive. Theater productions about Tiananmen have resonated with audiences, evoking strong emotional responses and fostering greater understanding of the historical events.

In London, a play titled “May 35th” moved audience members to tears as it depicted the aftermath of the June 4 crackdown. The emotional impact of such artistic endeavors has the potential to inspire empathy and understanding across generations, ensuring that the legacy of Tiananmen endures for years to come.