The world’s first and only permanent museum dedicated to China’s Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 will shutter by the end of the year, with organizers citing political reasons for the closure. Known as the June 4th Museum, the institution is facing a lawsuit concerning building permits that its organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, can no longer afford to fight, Agence France Press reported. The nearly three-decade-old pro-democratic organization is known for organizing annual vigils in Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of the student demonstrations.
Located on the fifth floor of an office building in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district, the 800-square-foot memorial space would have turned two in less than two weeks, on April 26. As Hong Kong Alliance Chairman Albert Ho told the New York Times, Stanly Chau Kwok-chiuthe, the chairman of the building owner’s corporation, is suing the alliance for occupational violations, saying that the space may be used only for offices. The buildings’ tenants, according to AFP, have reportedly complained about the museum.
“I tend to believe they are politically motivated … the other side seem to have unlimited resources,” Ho told AFP. Chau has rejected these claims.
But considering the museum holds artifacts, photographs, videos, and more related to China’s most censored event, the possibility of political motivations is not far-fetched. Exhibitions include casings of bullets fired by the People’s Liberation Army, a map showing the locations of victims’ deaths, T-shirts signed by student leaders such as Wang Dan and Chai Ling, a six-and-a-half-foot-tall replica of the Goddess of Democracy — which students erected during their occupation — and displays of overseas criticism and condemnation of the historic events.
According to the Hong Kong Alliance’s website, organizers faced many hurdles during the museum’s run, including limitations to the number of visitors, who were often forced to provide their identity card numbers and subjected to other incidents of harassment. As of press time, the museum’s domain, 64.museum.org, is no longer running, although social media posts from April 6 indicate that it will be back online on April 15.
The June 4th Museum is actually the third effort by the Hong Kong Alliance to shine a light on this controversial period of China’s history: the organization had previously opened two temporary exhibitions in Hong Kong, the first in 2012 and another in 2013. The current, permanent museum opened on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the protests, intended “to preserve history, to impart truths, to awaken our collective conscience, to vindicate the movement, and to spark reflections on the future of democracy in China,” as Hong Kong Alliance writes.
The museum is primarily intended to attract mainland Chinese visitors, as Hong Kong, having a semi-autonomous government, is the only city in the country where people may openly commemorate the protests and massacre. According to its website, the museum received over 20,000 visitors between its opening and this January, at least one-third of whom were mainlanders.
The organizers are currently trying to raise funds to move to a bigger location; exhibitions will head to storage if they are unable to find another space.