HONG KONG – A bottle of forbidden liquor produced last year by Chinese activists to mark the 1989 military crackdown on Beijing's Tiananmen Square has arrived in Hong Kong after a trip around the world.
Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders on Friday unveiled the bottle of Chinese baijiu marking the date June 4, 1989, when communist leaders sent tanks and troops to retake the square from student-led protesters, leaving hundreds if not thousands dead.
They called for the release of the four Chinese dissidents arrested last year for bottling the baijiu in a bid to raise awareness about the crackdown.
The bottle was smuggled from China and taken on a symbolic trip around the world. It will be displayed at a Hong Kong museum dedicated to chronicling the bloodshed, just days before the city marks the anniversary with a candlelight vigil.
The four dissidents, Fu Hailu, Chen Bing, Zhang Junyon and Luo Fuyu, were arrested in the southwestern city of Chengdu and charged in March with "inciting subversion of state power." Their arrests are part of a broader crackdown on rights activists under President Xi Jinping.
"What is Xi Jinping afraid of?" said pro-democracy organizer Lee Cheuk-yan. "If he is afraid of this June 4, '89 liquor, then I believe he should be even more concerned about Hong Kong peoples' candlelight."
Talk of the crackdown remains taboo in mainland China and many people are not aware of it, though it is freely discussed in Hong Kong, a special Chinese region with much autonomy.
The four dissidents dubbed the booze "Eight Liquor Six Four" and sold it for 89.64 yuan — shorthand for the crackdown date. In Chinese, the word for liquor sounds similar to the word for nine.
The bottle's label depicts a lone figure facing down a row of tanks, reminiscent of the famous "Tank Man" image from 1989, and boasts of being aged 27 years with 64 percent strength.
The bottle was carried by hand through countries in South Asia, the Middle East and Europe, according to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which operates the museum. Neither the countries nor the couriers were identified.
It reportedly arrived in Paris, where it was mailed to an exiled Chinese activist, Yang Jianli, in Washington, who handed it off to Hong Kong activist Andrew To, who carried it on its final leg from the U.S. before he flew back home with it last weekend.
"It's crucial to bring it back to Hong Kong to commemorate the event on June 4th," To said. "It's just a label but it scares the Chinese government."
The bottle will be displayed at the museum's temporary location until June 15, when it closes down. Organizers are looking to buy a permanent space.
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This story has been corrected to show that the bottle's label says "Eight Liquor Six Four," not "Eight Liquor June Four."