About 600 people marched silently from a Hong Kong park to government headquarters today to mark the 19th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
But organisers faced the delicate task of not appearing insensitive at a time when China is mourning the deaths of more than 69,000 people from last month’s earthquake in Sichuan province.
The marchers carried banners that honoured the quake victims, as well as the victims of the 1989 military crackdown, which killed at least hundreds of people.
Some signs read, “Reverse the position on June 4” referring to the date of the Tiananmen crackdown and Beijing’s stance that the protests were a “counterrevolutionary riot”.
Other signs read, “Pay tribute to the brave rescuers” referring to the rescue teams at the earthquake disaster sites.
The marchers, wearing black T-shirts, observed a brief moment of silence for the quake victims before setting off. They did not chant slogans, and organisers said they would donate funds raised during the march to quake relief efforts.
Veteran activist Szeto Wah said corruption and abuse of power played a role in both the earthquake disaster and the Tiananmen crackdown, noting allegations that shoddy construction had caused many buildings in Sichuan to crumble easily.
“Just because there’s an earthquake, does it mean we don’t need to reverse the position on June 4? Does it mean we don’t need democracy? Does it mean we don’t need to fight corruption?” Mr Szeto said.
“Continuing to mourn the victims of June 4 doesn’t mean we question the disaster in Sichuan,” Richard Tsoi, another activist, said.
China had been under heavy international scrutiny before the earthquake on May 12. Protesters critical of China’s human rights record had repeatedly tried to sabotage the Beijing Olympics torch relay.
Beijing’s crackdown on anti-government riots in Tibet in March also provoked criticism.
But the deadly earthquake has shifted attention away from those issues.