Hong Kong By The Numbers

The number in question is the marchers of the Patriotic Democratic March in Hong Kong on Sunday, March 29, 2005.

(The Standard)  Fewer remember June 4.  By Michael Ng.  May 30, 2005.

If numbers are anything to go by, local interest in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest in Beijing, which was crushed June 4, appears to be diminishing.  Only 1,400 people turned up for Sunday's rally to commemorate the incident - the lowest attendance for the past 16 years.  The alliance said the turnout represented a 75 percent drop from last year's anniversary demonstration, which saw 5,600 take to the streets.  Police said only 1,000 people took part in Sunday's march.

(South China Morning Post)  Lowest ever turnout for June 4 protest march.  By Anita Lam.  May 30, 2005.

Turnout for the annual march commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown hit a new low yesterday, with only 1,400 people joining the protest.  The organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, came up with the figure of 1,400 for the march from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices - about a third of last year's 5,600.  But the police said that according to their estimate only 1,000 people took part. 


On Sunday, several hundred people marched through Hong Kong to denounce China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in June 1989 - a move that stunned locals in this then-British colony years away from returning to Chinese rule.

(Ming Pao via Yahoo! News)  

Last year's was the 15th anniversary of June 4, and there were about 5,000 people.  Based upon this reporter's observations, the number of marchers was 1,000 but the Alliance announced a figure of 1,400.  That was still a historical low.  Among the marchers were about 200 F*L*G members.

(Oriental Daily via Yahoo! News

This is the 16th anniversary of June 4 and the Patriotic Democratic March was attended by 1,000 people according to police estimate and 1,400 according to the organizers, or less than half of what they predicted.  Furthermore, there were about 200 F*L*G members who were protesting about something else.

(VOA via Peacehall)

But the number of participants is the historical low.  The organizers estimated that there were 1,400 people, while the police estimated that were about 1,000 people.  

[note: Bizarrely, the Peacehall editor inserted this editor's note: "the number should be more than 2,400 persons; the Central News Agency reporter made an error due to misunderstanding the Cantonese dialect" (人数应为2400多人,中央社记者误解广东话造成).  In fact, the Peacehall headline was "Only more than 1,000 at the Hong Kong June 4 Annual March?" (香港六四周年游行参加者仅千余人?) with the question mark.  Since every single local newspaper got the 1,000/1,400 figures, maybe all their reporters misunderstood Cantonese?]

For a small-scale demonstration such as this, there is no discrepancy among the newspapers.  All newspapers cited the 1,400 claimed by the organizers and the 1,000 police estimate (ignoring that one bizarre Peacehall editor's note).   For once, the political positions of the newspapers could not be read from the numbers that they cite.  However, the political positions can still be read by which newspapers mentioned the 200 F*L*G demonstrators.  Below is the AP photograph captioned with "Several hundred people march on a downtown street in Hong Kong Sunday, May 29, 2005."  The banners include typical F*L*G slogans, such as the "Nine Criticisms", "1.9 million Chinese Communist Party members resigned", and "Epoch Times".  Ming Pao and Oriental Daily mentioned the F*L*G marchers, but everybody else was mum.

(Sing Tao)  The print edition (page A9) contains the numbers for the same march organized by the Alliance over the past 16 years.  They make an interesting comparison with the numbers supplied to Apple Daily by the Alliance.  In the following, the Sing Tao number appears before the Alliance number.  Are we talking about major discrepancies or what?

Looking at either set of numbers, the first thing that we can say for certain that this trend does not reflect only memory decay.  If that was all there is, the time series would have been monotonically decreasing over time.  The fact is that this event gets boosts by tie-ins with other contemporaneous external events.  Unfortunately, those external events are beyond the control of the Alliance.

In Sing Tao (via Yahoo! News), Alliance chairman Szeto Wah said: 

Last year was a high point.  First of all, it was the fifteenth anniversary.  Second, it enjoyed the after-effects of the 2003 and 2004 July 1 marches.  Based upon my personal experience, social movements have their ups and downs.  After a high point, there is bound to be a slide.  Last November, when the Alliance held its annual meeting, I already reminded everybody to be psychologically prepared for a low point.  The number of people does not matter.  The most important thing is that we stay firm.  It is not bad to have 1,400 people this year.  I believe that there will be high points later.

Of course, whether there will be high points or not in the future depends on unforeseeable external developments.  Not mentioned is the prospect that this march might be taken over by groups such as F*L*G for their own purposes, and that would be the end of the whole concept.  The disturbing fact is that 200 out of 1,000 participants this year were probably doing this for other reasons.  What will happen if that percentage increases?  How many June 4 diehards will march for the F*L*G cause?

In the latest HKU POP poll, one question was whether the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China should be disbanded or not.  The results were 19% "Yes" and 47% "No."  The popularity rating was 46.4.  If the Alliance is so popular, then why were there only 1,000 marchers out of a population of almost 7 million?  This is a topic for someone's thesis in sociology on the 'free rider problem.'