In fact, the name of the bar caused some unease when it first opened, just a year after the bloodshed. Some columnists even denounced the owners for profiting from death.
Yet, contrary to what many people believe, Club 64 was not named after the Tiananmen crackdown. Ma explains she was told the plan was to find eight shareholders who would each invest HK$80,000 to raise a total of HK$640,000. Another explanation was that the name derives from the Beatles song, When I’m Sixty-four.
It is no surprise that Ma supported the 1989 democracy movement. She has been concerned about society from a young age. When she was a secondary four student, she took part in a Hong Kong Federation of Students’ campaign to demand that Chinese be made an official language in Hong Kong.
“I was in primary three, and my mother asked me to read an English letter for her. How could I read it? It was a government letter,” she says, recalling an incident that made a deep impression on her. “We are Chinese people and we write Chinese. Why did we have a British government?” she asked herself at the time. Years later, this memory drove her to help distribute flyers and put up posters to support the campaign.
Besides joining campaigns and protests, Ma founded a monthly magazine, Suk Chin (《實踐》), with a former boyfriend in 1976, with the aim of improving the society and making Hong Kong a better place.
Whether defending Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, joining the Association for the Advancement of Feminism, objecting to the introduction of the national education curriculum or supporting the Umbrella Movement, Ma never tires of fighting.
“We need liberation in all sorts of things, people, whatever,” she says.
In the lead-up to Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule, Ma’s desire for freedom and the disillusionment brought about by the Tiananmen crackdown prompted her to think about the future. Like many Hongkongers at the time, her family applied to emigrate to Canada in 1990 for the sake of the children. “I agree very much with my former husband’s saying, ‘we don’t want to see them throwing stones in the future, and we don’t want to see them not throwing stones either.’”
Their application was approved in 1994, but by then she had divorced. She left Hong Kong and the business to move to Canada with her two young children, then aged six and eight. It was a challenge and Ma could not find a job that paid her enough to feed three mouths.
After struggling for a few months, she made the difficult decision to leave the children in the care of her mother and sister while she worked for their living. “Life must go on,” she says. Ma returned to Hong Kong and to running Club 64.