Wrist watch etches violent Beijing crackdown at Tiananmen Square in history

Published (HKT): 2021.04.07 14:16

A wrist watch hailing from the annals of Chinese history is on display in Hong Kong, at the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving the memory of a military crackdown on civilians at Tiananmen Square in Beijing 32 years ago.

The watch was an award given to troops to recognize their efforts in a bloody suppression of a student-led democracy movement on June 4, 1989, by the Communist Party of China.

It was donated to the June 4th Museum in Hong Kong and is now being shown in an exhibition ahead of the venue’s closure on April 17 for week-long renovation works.

On the watch face is an image of a People’s Liberation Army soldier wearing a green helmet, above a line of Chinese characters that say: “89.6 in Commemoration of Quelling the Violent Chaos.” Text inscribed on the back reads: “Awarded by the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality.”

The historical exhibit serves as proof of the fatal Tiananmen crackdown where unknown numbers of pro-democracy protesters died or were injured, their details covered up by the party up to this day.

“It is very clear that [the June 4 incident] had been initiated by the highest levels of the party to mobilize the troops to Beijing for the suppression,” said Richord Choi, vice president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, operator of the museum.

Earlier, an auction house in the United Kingdom withdrew the sale of a watch of the same model after the seller allegedly received threats on social media.

The British case reflected the attention paid in foreign countries to the Tiananmen crackdown and to Hong Kong, and could be seen as “a thorn in the flesh” of Chinese authorities, Choi said.

He revealed that the watch in Hong Kong was from an experienced local journalist who gifted it to the museum at the time of its establishment in 2014.

The journalist was understood to have received the watch as a present from a Beijinger and kept it for more than 20 years, Choi said. He believed that the journalist had traveled to Beijing to report on the students’ 1989 democracy movement and came to be acquainted with the original owner.

Back in those days, China’s economy was in a poor state with great demand for food, so the watch would have been considered as a “luxury gift” bestowed on army troops who took part in the Tiananmen suppression, Choi suggested.

The museum is currently holding as its main exhibition “At the Forefront of Anti-Totalitarianism: From the 1989 Democracy Movement to the Anti-Extradition Movement,” and a special show titled “The 10th Anniversary of Mr Szeto Wah’s Death.”

After the renovation, a new exhibition will be conducted with a theme on the relationship between 100 years of China and the June 4, 1989, incident.

Some members of the public visited over the Easter holiday. A visitor surnamed Cheng, who was a university student in 1989, believed that the value of the museum lay in possessing a wealth of evidence which defied the official narrative about the Tiananmen incident. The museum would help to preserve the voices of the people at that time, he said.

Cheng said that he had always joined the June 4 candlelight vigil and fundraising campaign organized by the alliance over the years and would continue to walk the talk. The political regime might be out to silence Hong Kong people and stop them from holding the annual vigil at Victoria Park, but Cheng believed Hongkongers would be able to find their own ways to mourn.

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