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May 28, 2017

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Memory of crackdown flickers in tiny museum in Hong Kong

HONG KONG--To find the world's only museum chronicling the brutal crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen protests, look for the skinny office building wedged between a Tibetan-themed pub and a sports bar on a side street on the edge of a Hong Kong tourist district.

With nothing to indicate its location, aside from a listing on the lobby directory, there's no clue for passers-by that it houses the June 4th Museum, dedicated to preserving the memory of one of the darkest periods in China's recent past through photographs, artifacts, videos and written histories of the events.

Yet a steady stream of visitors, many from mainland China, has been trickling in since it was opened in April. The interest shows that even though authorities have deleted the events from China's official record, their memory flickers 25 years on in Hong Kong.

The protests remain a taboo topic in mainland China, and Beijing has never given a full accounting of what happened during the crackdown that killed hundreds, possibly thousands. But in Hong Kong, which retains Western-style civil liberties unseen on the mainland, the memory of the Tiananmen protests are just one of many reminders of how the city's differences with China continue to widen 17 years after it ceased to be a British colony. Every year the city holds a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims that's attended by tens of thousands, with numbers rising in recent years.

But otherwise, Hong Kong residents are more worried about the hordes of mainland visitors buying up everything from baby formula to luxury apartments and their bad manners, such as eating on the subway and letting their children urinate on the street.

"The world memory of it is fading and the younger generation doesn't know of it in China, where it's also banned," said Lee Cheuk Yan, chairman of the Labour Party and head of the pro-democracy group that operates the museum. "So we think it's very important for us to preserve this historical truth."

Lee said the museum aims to challenge the Communist Party to overturn its official verdict that the mostly student-led protests were a "counterrevolutionary riot."

His group, the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Democratic Patriotic Movements in China, bought the space for nearly 10 million Hong Kong dollars (US$1.3 million). But in a sign of the discomfort felt by some businesses about being associated with the Tiananmen protest, the building owners' committee is taking the group to court. The committee says the office's use as an exhibition hall violates the property deed and that visitors would swamp the building's two small elevators.

"We are confident about our legal position," Lee said.

Committee members could not be reached for comment. But committee member Yeung Cho-ming, secretary-general of a plastic manufacturing trade group, told the South China Morning Post newspaper in April that the museum is "definitely a political problem" and that they were afraid it would "bring us trouble."

The museum, just 75 square meters, is hidden away on the fifth floor of the nondescript Foo Hoo Center in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district.

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