“Justice won’t die,” Sin Jit Ming, a twelve-year-old boy, wrote in a Christmas card.
In a month, Sin’s card, together with other thousands of Christmas cards will be sent to a group of elder people, whose sons or daughters were killed during the June Fourth crackdown, a pro-democracy student protests violently suppressed by the Chinese government in Tiananmen on June 4th, 1989.
Sin, a year one student at the Pui Ching Secondary School, wrote his card while visiting the June 4th Museum with his grandpa.
Looking at the child giving his card to volunteers at the museum, the grandpa put on a satisfying smile. “If he sees these facts (pictures and videos at the museum) and writes to those witnesses, he won’t just listen to whatever he was told,“ the old man said.
“He can learn nothing about the truth (of the June 4th) in school, nothing.”
Tang Ngok Kwan, a volunteer at the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, led a team to compare how all the four versions of history textbooks used in high schools in Hong Kong wrote about the June Fourth crackdown.
According to their research, most textbooks used less than 200 words for the crackdown and one mentioned the issue only in the annotation. Some of the key facts were missing.
“All the versions never mention students’ democracy pursuits, the number of the dead and the injured, or the People’s Liberation Army’s violence,” Tang said. “Simply saying that the PLA interfered a student movement does not explain anything.”
However, the inadequacy of textbooks’ information does not seem to be a barrier for teenagers in Hong Kong to know about the June Fourth crackdown.
Under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, Hong Kong, a former British colony, can remain parts of its own political and social features, which offers more space for the freedom of speech.
Therefore, students can have various access to approach the June Fourth crackdown, while the Communist Party of China has tried to erase facts about it on the mainland.
To help students better understand the democracy protests and the crackdown in 1989, some schools organize their students to visit the June 4th Museum as parts of their general education; each year, the June 4th Stage, a non-profit troupe, will tour numbers of schools with their original works about the crackdown; there is also an underground band, the VIIV, often giving free performance for the youngsters.
On Friday, 35 year three students from the Lau Pak Lok Secondary School visited the June 4th Museum. They were the 63th groups of student visitors this year.
Cheung Yee Wing, teacher of the Modern China course, said, “We realize there are not enough material in textbooks for students to make a judgment or even an opinion about the June 4th and I hope they can have a clearer idea here. ”
“Is the video real?”
“Where did you get it? “
“How many people died?”
“How do you know……”
While her classmates were asking questions like shooting guns, Lam Shui Chun stood in a corner and was absorbed in reading an old piece of Wen Wei Po. The headline was “Blood Washed Beijing”.
“It (old newspapers) is better than Youtube,” Lam said. This was the first time she figured out what happened before and after the June 4th. “When I watched videos about the crackdown on line, (I found) many of them were too fragmentary. I want to know it from the start to the end. “
Instead of enumerating historical facts, the June 4th Stage invites students to tell stories with actors. The troupe often randomly picks up audience to play roles like the solders, student protestors, parents and etc. in the performance.
Put a Little White Flower in the Square is the most well-known play of the June 4th Stage. The story is about the friendship and love of a journalist from Hong Kong and two student protestors in Beijing in 1989. Their encounter, separation and reunion 20 years later touched many people.
In one of the anonymous thank you letters to the troupe, a student who was invited to play a protestor from the Peking University wrote, “I can feel their (student protestors) eager for freedom and democracy. I feel grateful to be born in this era when I don’t have to sacrifice my life for anything.”
There are hundreds of thank you letters like that on the wall of Lit Ming Wai’s office. As the president of the troupe, Lit is busy contacting schools about the campus tour in 2015.
”We are proud to offer national education on the stage,” she said. “For the post-90s generation in Hong Kong, a crackdown in Beijing decades ago may seem too far, but the humanity, passion and idealism among the youth are universal.”
So far, The June 4th Stage has played 135 sessions for more than 40,000 students from 88 high schools.
You think it funny/Why I am as silly as you/Standing in front of guns/The story is not over/Cause you and me are here/The courage on that day is still here
On November 12th, the VIIV band played their new song, the Courage on That Day, to student protestors at Admiralty, the main spot of the recent democracy protest for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. Like their many other songs, this one is to memorize the June Fourth protests, but has a more reality based approach.
“It (listening to the song) is like a travel through space and time,” said Lee Wing Yiu, a year two student at the Tuen Mun Government Secondary School. As a student protestor who has been through tear gas and pepper spray in the last two month, Lee found that song quite relatable. “I never feel so close to them (student protestors in 1989). We are not guilty of asking for freedom,” he said.
While the democracy protests in Hong Kong went on, Yang Ren Wang, a history teacher of the Renmin University High School in Beijing, decided to take a risk, giving a class about the June Fourth crackdown.
“None of the four versions of history textbooks (for high school students) mentioned a word about the June 4th (the protests and the crackdown),” Yang said. “It’s a shame.”
When Yang asked his year two students if they had ever heard of the June 4th or knew anything about it, among 26 students in the top class of one of the top high schools in China, only one boy raised his hand.
“”My father was on the scene,” he said. “He saw that students burned a soldier to death. “
“They are mobs. They deserved to be killed.”