For the first time in 33 years, no services will be held in Hong Kong to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown, erasing one of the memories of China’s bloody crackdown on the 1989 protests.

Since Beijing enacted a comprehensive national security law to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2020, candlelight vigils have been banned, the Tiananmen Museum closed, and statues demolished.

The annual Catholic masses were one of the last opportunities for Hong Kong residents to come together publicly to commemorate the deadly crackdown in Beijing on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese government used tanks and troops against peaceful protesters.

But this year they were also canceled due to fears of clashing with Hong Kong authorities.

“We find it very difficult in the current social climate,” said Reverend Martin Ip, chaplain of the Hong Kong Catholic Students’ Union, one of the organizers.

“Our bottom line is that we don’t want to break any law in Hong Kong,” he said.

The diocese, which was co-organized by the Justice and Peace Commission, said its colleagues on the front lines were concerned they might be violating Hong Kong law.

Discussion of the 1989 campaign is forbidden in mainland China. But in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, his story was often taught in schools and the call to end Chinese Communist Party rule was lively and persistent – right up to the introduction of the Security Act.

Within months, decades of memory were erased as authorities used the law to remake Hong Kong in the image of authoritarian Beijing.

Hong Kong Alliance, the most prominent Tiananmen Square advocacy group and organizer of the candlelight vigil, has been prosecuted for inciting subversion as a “foreign agent”.

Last September, their leaders were arrested, their museum closed on June 4th after a police raid, and campaign digital records were erased overnight after police shut down the group’s website and social media accounts.

For others, such as crowd organisers, the uncertainty of where the new red lines would move was enough to force them to back off.

Six universities on June 4th removed monuments that had stood on their campuses for years. Just before Christmas last year, three of them were taken away within 48 hours.

The University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) Column of Shame, an eight-meter-high statue by Danish artist Jens Galchiot, has been dismantled, placed in a shipping container and left on a rural property owned by the University of Hong Kong.

Removed the “column of shame” from the University of Hong Kong last December. Photo: Lam Chun Tung / AP

At Lingnan University, a mural by artist Chen Weiming has been moved to an underground storage room.

His statue of the “Goddess of Democracy” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong has been sent to a secret “safe place”.

“They are trying to erase a shameful incident in history when the country committed a crime against its own people,” Chen said.

The universities said they had never approved the statues’ existence and that their removal was based on a legal risk assessment.

In the place where the goddess once stood, there was now only a faint imprint of her square base.

The column has been replaced by a new seating area with pebble-shaped chairs and potted flowers.

“That’s what it means…After a few years no one knows what happened there,” Galchiot said.

He tried to return the column to Europe, but the sensitivity was so great that the university refused to lend it to him and the logistics companies did not dare to intervene.

They say, “It’s very complicated, very dangerous,” Galchiot said.

Efforts are underway to erase all traces of Tiananmen Square – earlier this year, the University of Hong Kong covered a slogan painted June 4 on the campus with cement, calling it “regular maintenance.”

In the city’s public libraries, 57 Tiananmen Books have been banned for public lending – nearly double the number since the Hong Kong Free Press’s local news agency account last November.

Instead, the space commemorating the repression is now located outside Hong Kong, where exiled dissidents are setting up their own museums in the United States and activists plan to resurrect a “pillar of shame” in Taiwan.

Vigils will be held worldwide on June 4, with rights group Amnesty International coordinating candlelight vigils in 20 cities “to demand justice and solidarity with Hong Kong”.

Zhou Fengsu, a Tiananmen survivor who lives in the United States, said he has seen more people attending such events in the West in recent years, including Hong Kong youth who immigrated recently.

“I am grateful that Hong Kong has carried the torch of Tiananmen Remembrance for the past 30 years,” Zhou said. “Now it is our duty to do this outside Hong Kong.”