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Tiananmnen Square museum opens in Hong Kong

Recalling fateful 1989 massacre, new museum sparks angry debate

Tiananmnen Square museum opens in Hong Kong

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Adam McCauley for Al Jazeera
Hong Kong

April 29, 2014

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Visitors arrived to the chants of protesters who wore white shirts and blue hats and carried signs reading: "Uncover the hidden truth" - urging passersby to learn the "real history". But these protesters couldn't stop the grand opening of Hong Kong's controversial June 4 Memorial Museum on Saturday. Sponsored by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (the Alliance), the museum documents the 1989 clash between Chinese government forces and student protesters that killed hundreds and wounded thousands more in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

It is the world's first permanent museum dedicated to the deadly protests, and recent tensions between pro-democracy groups and communist government supporters in Hong Kong have thrust the facility into the middle of current debates.  

"A lot of people have forgotten what has happened and mainlanders are not allowed to remember," Cheuk-yan Lee, chairman of the Alliance told Al Jazeera. In Beijing, where Tiananmen Square serves as a major tourist site featuring historical depictions of the country's communist revolution, it is forbidden to discuss the landmark in relation to the events of 1989. 

Inside the new 800-square-foot (74sqr m) museum, the dark red and black walls showcase a collection of written documents, reportage and nearly 1,000 archival photographs. Artifacts, including a bullet-riddled helmet worn by a student protester, have been collected to preserve the scarce physical history that remains 25 years after the event. The museum also sells USB sticks containing historical documents about the Tiananmen Square protests, which, organisers said, would be easier for mainland tourists to sneak through Chinese immigration.

 

At the opening, museum staff and supporters sparred verbally with protesters - the former group calling for an end to China's one party rule, while the later carried photographs of Chinese police officers injured in Tiananmen Square, accusing the Alliance of spreading misinformation. Altercations between the two sides forced Hong Kong police to call in reinforcements.

"This museum will attract the general public and is a means to educate the younger generation," said Johnny Lau, 60, a freelance journalist who reported from Tiananmen Square in 1989 before being banned from mainland China.

 

The Alliance, founded in May 1989 by dissidents forced out of mainland China together with pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong, has sponsored annual vigils for the victims of Tiananmen Square. The new museum, partially financed by $774,000 in donations, follows positive reaction to the Alliance installing temporary memorials in the past two years in Hong Kong.

The museum's impending opening sparked fierce debate between pro-democracy supporters and pro-communist groups in Hong Kong, over a chapter in history that pro-Chinese factions would like to forget. 

But a more direct threat came from other tenants at the Foo Hoo Centre, where the museum is housed. Two companies threatened legal action, citing violations of the property deed and anticipated disturbance caused by a high volume of visitors.

"The (June 4 incident) is sensitive and contentious. We are afraid the museum will bring us trouble. Someone might protest here and affect our daily operations," Yeung Cho-ming, secretary-general of Chiu Chau Plastic Manufacturers Association, an organisation which rents space in the building housing the museum, told the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English newspaper.  

Full Story: Tiananmen museum revives ghosts of a massacre

Source: Al Jazeera

 

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