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Vancouver councillor hints at city memorial for Tiananmen Square massacre

A new public memorial of the Tiananmen Square massacre on City of Vancouver land has support from city councillor Lenny Zhou, who will mark the event's 35th anniversary at David Lam Park on Tuesday.
Lenny Zhou says the city is developing a commemoration framework and a memorial for the Tiananmen Square Massacre could be possible with his and council's support

Vancouver city councillor Lenny Zhou says a plan is being developed that could lead to a new public memorial for the Tiananmen Square massacre in the city.

June 4 marks the 35th anniversary of the massacre, which is said to be a watershed moment in Canadian immigration history.

However, such a memorial has long been opposed by Vancouver’s Chinese consulate, which lobbied against the concept in the year following the 1989 student-led uprising in Beijing that resulted in the People’s Liberation Army killing thousands of protesters who had staged a demonstration against the communist government.

In 1990, Vancouver city council buckled to pressure from the consulate and consulate-connected lobby groups that opposed a proposal by the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement (VSSD) to establish a memorial in Chinatown.

Thereafter, the society was able to establish a memorial at the University of B.C., beyond the city’s jurisdiction. It also found a home at Burnaby’s Forest Lawn cemetery. Both sites have a statue called the Goddess of Democracy.

Society founding member Mabel Tung said it would be a meaningful step to establish a memorial on public land in Vancouver, noting the two existing memorials are out of plain view — just the way the consulate would hope.

“It would be good to have a place where people walk around and are able to see a memorial statue or plaque,” so people can be educated on the historic event, said Tung.

But Tung said she anticipates overt or covert opposition coming from the consulate, should Zhou be able to get the plan rolling.

“The Chinese consulate will be the first to jump up and say ‘no’ to the plan,” said Tung, noting she is not apprised of any details of the plan.

Zhou said he too had limited details but when asked specifically about a Tiananmen Square massacre memorial, he stated “a plan for memorial display will be presented to council this year” and that he will follow up.

Zhou said, via text message, details of a “comprehensive commemoration framework is being developed to address issues like this.”

After this story was published, a city spokesperson clarified to Glacier Media that the framework will be presented to council next year, not this year, and not a specific plan for a memorial for the Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Given the nascent stage of the plan Zhou said he did not want to take away from the June 4 candlelight vigil planned at David Lam Park.

Zhou took to social media platform X to encourage other elected officials to stand with him and other attendees for the vigil.

“The event should focus the ordinary citizens who attend (just like when I used to be). Their presence and participation are the driving forces behind the democratization process, and they deserve our utmost attention and respect,” said Zhou, who has frequently spoken out against the regime’s human rights record and done so as the federal government grapples with alleged electoral interference and influence campaigns on the part of the Chinese government.

Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MP Jenny Kwan told Glacier Media by email she is supportive of Zhou’s memorial ambition.

“I would support having a memorial in Vancouver as well. Having it at UBC allows for easy access for students and the student movement; that said, having a second memorial in Vancouver is certainly something I would support,” stated Kwan.

Chinese government critics such as Tung note the massacre was a milestone for Canadian immigration.

Between 1987 and 1997, 225,000 people emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada, according to a Statistics Canada website outlining the biggest immigration waves in history.

“The horror of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 directly and indirectly triggered two of the largest immigration waves in Canada, from 1990 to 1992 and 1996 to 1998,” Ivy Li, member of the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong society, told Glacier Media in 2022.

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