I had meant to remember Tiananmen this year by featuring an essay from democracy activist and labor lawyer Stephen Diamond, who has warned for years about the dangers of U.S. labor leaders working with the farce that is Mainland China's government-controlled labor 'union.' My plan was changed by a photograph.
It has been a tradition for those who write every year to commemorate the events of June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square to feature a photograph that depicts the massacre of the protestors. But on the night of June 4, 2009, China time, a gathering in Hong Kong to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the event gave the world, and the cause of freedom, a new image.
The historic image was captured by Reuters photographer Bobby Yip and is featured in a New York Times report written by Keith Bradsher.
The day dawned with heavy rainstorms but by evening the streets had dried and a nearly full moon rose in a cloudless sky to reveal 150,000 Chinese gathered in Victoria Park. The assemblage was so large it spilled into nearby streets and shut down traffic.
Many arrived at Victoria Park because they'd attended every annual Tiananmen commemoration that had been held in Hong Kong. They were joined by Hong Kongers who were angered by their administration's attempt to appease Beijing by barring democracy activists from entering Hong Kong territory for this year's commemoration and for trying to downplay the massacre, which has been called by one Chinese "the darkest day in China's history." Commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre is banned on the Mainland.
By the time the speeches and songs got underway the crowd represented the largest ever gathered in Hong Kong to remember what is often referred to simply as "Tiananmen."
Suddenly the electric lamps lighting Victoria Park were extinguished. Then thousands in the gathering lit white candles set in inverted conical paper shields.
White is the color of mourning in China, but I find nothing mournful about the sight of darkness pierced by many thousands of individual lights.
Steve Diamond closed his essay by quoting American labor activist Mother Jones: “Mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”
Of course photographs are not enough; symbols and mass demonstrations are never enough to win or preserve freedom. Yet if we consider that it was not without risk that thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered in public to light a candle, the symbolism of the event takes on profound meaning.
If the young ask why the process of democratization is so agonizingly slow and tyranny so often wins -- because democracy is not based in the voting booth, laws, street protests, armed revolution, or the size of crowds.
Democracy's defense, it's only reliable defense, is an arduous process of reasoning about the fundamentals of human freedom coupled with a thorough knowledge of history. If those exercises are absent it's easy for large numbers of people to accept a mirage in place of freedom and human parrots in place of democratic leaders.
It takes a lot of teaching and studying for many millions of people, let alone billions, to arrive at the maturity of thought that supplants the atavistic herd mentality. That grueling process takes time.
Yet no sincere retort to tyranny is ever futile. The protestors who were cut down on June 4, 1989 did not die in vain. If you need reminding of that, take a good look at the Victoria Park photograph.
This entry is crossposted at RBO, which added two YouTube videos of the Victoria Park gathering to the post, and which are very important records. RBO's blogger Procrustes told me in an email, "The videos show the magnitude and attitude of the crowd." The links to the videos are found here and here.