Photo of Hong Kong artist in 2021 resurfaced on 35th anniversary of Tiananmen crackdown

  • Published on June 6, 2024 at 04:27
  • Updated on June 6, 2024 at 04:29
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP Hong Kong
As Hong Kong police arrested people commemorating the 35th anniversary of China's deadly crackdown at Tiananmen Square, an old photo circulated in social media posts that falsely claimed it showed a woman holding a vigil in defiance of law enforcement in 2024. The picture was in fact taken in 2021 and showed Clara Cheung -- an independent artist who has since moved to the United Kingdom -- marking the anniversary that year.

"The most touching photos of June 4 this year," read a simplified Chinese post on X, formerly Twitter, shared on June 4, 2024.

"Tribute to the courageous people of Hong Kong!"

The photo showed a woman dressed in black kneeling in the street before a row of white flowers.

The image was shared widely online on June 4, 2024 -- which marked 35 years since Beijing's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Screenshot of the false X post. captured on June 5, 2024

Chinese troops and tanks forcibly dispersed peaceful protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, quelling huge, weeks-long demonstrations demanding greater political freedoms.

Hundreds were killed, with some estimates suggesting that more than 1,000 perished.

Decades on, China still censors any mention of the crackdown.

Hong Kong used to host the largest commemoration on Chinese soil to mourn those killed in Beijing on June 4, 1989. 

But the annual vigil, which was held in the city's Victoria Park and drew tens of thousands of people for decades, has been banned since Beijing imposed a national security law to quell dissent in 2020.

In March 2024, authorities enacted a second security law, which has drawn criticism from foreign governments over worries of further curbs on freedoms in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong police said four people were arrested on June 4, 2024, following eight arrests over "seditious" social media posts in the run-up to the anniversary. 

While a few people defied the ban and commemorated the anniversary in private, the photo shared online was taken years earlier. 

Performance art in 2021

An AFP photo taken on June 3, 2021 shows the same woman in black kneeling before a row of white flowers. 

An artist takes part in a performance art in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on June 3, 2021, to mourn the victims of China's deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown after authorities banned an annual vigil and vowed to stamp out any protests come the anniversary on June 4. (AFP / ISAAC LAWRENCE)

According to the photo caption, it shows a woman taking part in an art performance in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay area to mourn Tiananmen crackdown victims after authorities banned an annual vigil and vowed to stamp out any protests come the anniversary on June 4.

Keyword searches found a webpage about the performance art that the woman in the photo was taking part in (archived link).

The webpage shows various photos of the woman, identified as Clara Cheung, placing white chrysanthemums in the street.

Cheung is an independent artist and former Hong Kong district councillor who has moved to the United Kingdom.

"I participated on June 3rd 2021," the webpage quoted Cheung as saying. "I laid down 64 white chrysanthemum flowers across East Point Road, kneed down in silent tribute for 6 mins 40 seconds, took off the petals from all the flowers, and stored the petals in two glass jars."

Screenshot of the documentation page of the performance act "June 4 Memorial"

Despite the lack of a formal commemoration event, some people in 2024 marked the anniversary privately around Victoria Park -- which became the location of a carnival organised by pro-Beijing groups since the ban.

AFP reported this included Hong Kong artist Sanmu Chen, who traced the Chinese characters for 8964 -- representing the anniversary date -- in the air before the police detained him. 

Authorities also stopped and searched shoppers, including confused Chinese tourists, with AFP journalists witnessing some being taken away. 

Police later said in a statement that five people were removed "for investigation of disrupting public peace", and were released soon after.

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