June 4th, marked the 25th Anniversary since the blood-spattered protest's at Tienanmen Square in Beijing. Today I was lucky enough to watch the memorial ceremony attended by just over 20,000 people. Here's my account of that grim yet essential time.
04.06.2014 35 °C
Tienanmen, the word alone stands for so much, yet under China's effective censorship laws stands for nothing to most. I've met Chinese born after 1989 who have no idea what happened in Beijing, June 4th, 1989. But to many it denotes a failed democracy and led to tanks being sent by the government, and shortly after, the slaughter of hundreds maybe thousands of students. Today, I headed to Victoria square to bare witness to one of the biggest memorials in my life, a sea of glowing amber and red; the faces of the city behind those burning wicks. The numbers were nearing ten-thousand.
Hong-Kong's citizens usually pass peacefully beneath her array of spectacular neon signs, slogans and adverts, to fine dining restaurants and bars. But tonight, Hong-Kong rages with the same voice of democracy, nostalgia and bereavement as China had all that time ago.
As I exited the underground and it's sweating heaving crowds, Ice cold droplets land on my head from the dozens of air con units in the apartments above; joining the thick patch of sweat down my back. It's 35 degrees and we are practically vac packed into every crevice of Hong-Kong's high streets heading towards Victoria Park; the site of the memorial.
Locals heckle, protest and grieve through megaphones, all handing out bumper stickers and t-shirts with the same intrinsic words "Never forget". One man screams in Cantonese from a life sized cardboard tank. Though I'm clueless as to what is being said, old photographs of Tienanmen and caricatures of former politicians are enough to portray the outcry in today's citizens. In a way, the remembrance couldn't have came at a better time with Hong-Kong feeling the imposing pressure from mainland China.
Overhead highway roads become so congested, Hong-Kong seems to have-for a moment- ground to a halt. Candles and white roses are handed to everyone passing through into the park, and one by one the park fills with the faces, old and young. The megaphones continue to echo over the whole park and people pound there fists in the air to the woman on stage, aspirations of democracy echo along the sticky hot humidity. As the park becomes more and more crowded, I decide it's time to retreat to some higher ground and read 'Time' magazine, waiting for the lights to go down, and watch the burning candles of defiance to come out.
In the background, the skyline dances with lasers and lights as it does every night, and below it the crowds begin to sing in Cantonese. I pat a woman on the back standing next to me as she sobs into a tissue, narrowly missing her hair with the burning candle. One of my biggest admiration's of Hong-Kong is how passionate the people are about politics and how persistent they are to bring change, Often revolved around it's relations with China, opposing China's rules is often hard for Hong-Kong when they rely on daily imports across the border.
The park below is now full, and before park attendants or Police see what I'm up to, I shimmy up a rusted pole and onto the top of the entrance gates, giving me panoramic view of the memorial. As I do, a sea of flashes fire my way, folks wave and other photographers look pissed at my opportune timing. The folks soon turn back to the screen and I wait still for the floodlights to dim, and that melancholy glowing ambiance to appear. But my timing is right, as I grab my telephoto lens, the lights dim, and a silence ushers over the park. I feel as though the whole of China has been silenced, all beside one man beating a drum at the pace of a heart beat, the crowd begins to hum. As they do, hands extend into the air in unison and I revere in the glorious orange light.
For a scene so happily overpopulated, my shots with the subject feels so intimate as through my extended lens; behind those candles I see the faces of despair, of joy and sorrow for those lost. But most importantly, the significance the whole event had on each person. I see these in the faces from fathers holding there daughters on their shoulders, nurturing the flame, in the faces of young couples, and in the cracked skin of the old. I snap away at these faces, embrace their intimacies between me, them and the camera, but feel sad to see some flicking through their phones as others pray.
As I pass through the streets, gangs eerily gather around candles, spelled out among them are Chinese characters.The Vietnamese make use of the protests and add there own campaigns for no oil rigs, the Taiwanese however stay silent. Having soaked up every drop of this cultural exchange, I grab my things and run to the safety of the underground and to the confines of my home.
Still revering in the anecdote, I thank my lucky stars I got a spot where I did, and overall so lucky to experience such a significant event in history not just for China, but the entire world. Tienanmen was a failed democracy in a way, which is more so important at this time as any other with Syria, Russia, Venezuela; to not give up on the notion of defiance, we will not forget.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did living it, if you want to follow my journey via my photography blog you can here @: