Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong gathered to mark 30 years since China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Hong Kong is the only region under Beijing’s jurisdiction that holds significant public commemorations of the 1989 crackdown and memorials for its victims. Hong Kong has a degree of freedom not seen on the mainland as a legacy of British rule that ended in 1997.

The annual vigil at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park near the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district appeared to draw tens of thousands of participants who held candles.

Hong Kong Tiananmen Students
University students clean the Pillar of Shame statue, a memorial to those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, at the University of Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

Following an introduction of songs in the city’s Cantonese dialect and traditional string music, a minute of silence was held for the Tiananmen crackdown victims.

This year’s vigil featured a replica of the Goddess Of Democracy, a plaster sculpture of a female figure holding a torch that was displayed in Tiananmen Square in the days leading up to the crackdown, which took place on the night of June 3-4, 1989, and is believed to have killed hundreds and possibly thousands of people.

Chow Hang Tung, vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organises the annual event, said: “That statue was crushed by tanks at the June 4 crackdown, the June 4 massacre. So we are rebuilding this here … to symbolise that we are still continuing to fight for democracy, and continue on the spirit of the ’89 democratic protests.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Hong Kong, a dozen students lay flower bouquets at the Pillar Of Shame, a sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot commemorating the crackdown’s victims.

Students later observed a minute of silence in remembrance of the crackdown’s victims before scrubbing the pillar clean in an annual ritual.

Hong Kong Tiananmen Students
Students place flowers in front of the Pillar Of Shame memorial (Kin Cheung/AP)

Recent years have witnessed a generational divide about how best to memorialise the crackdown, and since 2015, Hong Kong university students have arranged their own commemorations separate from the main candlelight vigil.

“People who attend the vigil consider themselves Chinese. We disagree with this identity,” said Jordan Pang, acting chair of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union’s current affairs committee.

“I think the young generation and most students consider themselves Hong Kongers. If we need to commemorate, we do not want to use (the vigil) to commemorate,” Mr Pang said.

Despite its pro-democracy theme, young Hong Kongers see the vigil as promoting Chinese nationalism, said Samson Yuen, a professor of political science at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.

“They argue that Hong Kong needs to determine its own future. Hong Kong may need to seek independence from China and they believe that June 4 is a battleground,” Mr Yuen said.