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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
Passing The Torch
TIME Asia's Hong Kong reporter Isabella Ng attended the annual June 4 vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre.

June 5, 2000
Web posted at 5:45 p.m. Hong Kong time, 5:45 a.m. EDT



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Any given Sunday night at Hong Kong's sprawling Victoria Park, you can roller- skate in the rink, play soccer on concrete pitches, cool yourself off in the swimming pool or cuddle with your sweetheart under the shady trees. But on the night of June 4, there's another option: you can join a large crowd of people holding burning candles, soaking in sweat, chanting slogans and demanding justice for something that happened 11 years ago. Andy Ng, a roller-skating coach, has made his choice. "My view on the June 4 has changed," he says. "I just don't feel I need to be there. I have to work, anyway."

Do all Hong Kong people think like Andy? It seemed that way last week, when only 1,000 people turned up for a pro-democracy rally -- 3,000 fewer than last year. Local newspapers were describing the democracy movement as "a candle burn out."

Not likely. At the annual candlelight vigil on Sunday night, 45,000 concerned citizens showed up, braving the heat and humidity. This is half the number that participated last year -- but that was a special occasion, the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. This year's turnout beat the 1998 figure by 5,000.

Pretty good, for the commemoration of an event that took place 11 years ago and 2,000 km away. "There are still people in Hong Kong who persist," says Szeto Wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Movement in China, "I believe there is a steady number of Hong Kong people who care."

Wait a minute. This is HONG KONG, remember?. People here are only supposed to care about money. If you believe the stereotype, Hong Kong don't even regard themselves as citizens of China, so they shouldn't be bothered about what happened in Beijing in 1989. Well, here's a newsflash: the stereotype is bunk.

The theme of this year's vigil was "passing the torch." In a symbolic gesture, some 30 children, aged 3 to 14, held candles and torches on the central stage and chanted: "Democracy 2000, passing the torch." Will the new generation pay heed? Will young people carry the torch of democracy and freedom? I believe so. For proof, just listen to some Hong Kong people who were at the vigil:

"I have not forgotten. I want to teach my son what June 4 means. From this, I can show him what a human being should do and shouldn't do, and to let him know what democracy is. He doesn't understand now. But he will, one day." -- Cheung Chui-king, 30, clerk, with her 10 year-old son

"I want to learn more about June 4: that's why I'm here. My parents have not been telling me much about it." -- Yvonne Choi, 17, student

"I just feel that I should be here. I think it's important to show support for those who fight for democracy since I am sure to fight for such things in China is very risky." -- John Temesi, 22, Teacher

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