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Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square Museum Reopens

For some, the museum is the first time they confront information about the 1989 massacre

China has yet to acknowledge the Tienanmen Square massacre, but a museum in Hong Kong still keeps the incident's memory alive. (Colin Capelle - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

When large numbers of pro-democracy protesters in China were pursued by tanks, shot down by police and arrested en masse in Tiananmen Square 1989, the world took notice. But the Chinese government has never owned up to—or commemorated—the massacre. Now, reports the AFP, a controversial museum in Hong Kong will continue to do just that after a nearly year-long closure.

The June 4th Museum—named after the final date of the protests—closed down in July after officials said it violated zoning laws, the AFP reports. Its owners claim political motivations were behind the shutdown. The museum has now temporarily reopened in a small space in the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre located in the city’s Shek Kip Mei neighborhood with a special exhibition themed "What has 'June 4th' to do with me?"

China itself has no museum dedicated to the massacre. As Smithsonian.com previously reported, the Great Hall that overlooks the square was included on a 20th-century architectural preservation list, but China has never officially recognized the incident.

The killings took place in the midst of a national protest movement that pitted pro-democracy activists, many of them students, against Maoist authorities. As tensions grew, protesters gathered in the gigantic public square surrounded by historic monuments in the center of Beijing.

Ultimately, large numbers of Chinese troops fired at an undisclosed number of protesters. But though an international outcry followed—fueled by images of a single man standing down a row of tanks—China has never acknowledged or apologized for the killings.

In 2016, the last prisoner from the demonstration was finally released. Today, China continues to censor photographs and even words related to the massacre. As a result, people who were too young to remember or did not live through the events of June 1989 often know little or nothing about the protests or the killings. But Hong Kong, though technically part of China, remains a bastion of memory. Every year, tens of thousands of people gather in Hong Kong to commemorate the massacre.

The museum contains photo, video, eyewitness accounts and items that tell the massacre’s story. As The Daily Beast’s Brendon Hong reported in 2014, about half of its visitors were from mainland China—and the museum was "often the first time they [were] presented with a trove of information relating to the Tiananmen protests.”

It’s not yet clear whether the new museum will find a permanent venue, or escape another closure. But for now, it will continue to help keep the memory of what happened in Tiananmen Square alive.

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