This question is arguing about "the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square".

In my native language there very similar words for both concepts (anniversary and commemoration), but anniversary is always for a positive event and commemoration is for negative only, so above sentence sounds strange.

I have checked Wikidiff:


Of a significant event, a day that is an exact number of years (to the day) since the event occurred.


The act of commemorating; an observance or celebration designed to honor the memory of some person or event.

So, technically something bad (even involving someone's death) might be the subject of an anniversary, but commemoration typically deals with someone's death (memory).

I am wondering how native English speakers use these concepts.

Question: What exactly is the difference between anniversary and commemoration?

  • 1
    The difference is shown by the definitions you have found. An anniversary is a particular date; a commemoration is an act of remembering, which doesn't have to be on a significant date (though it usually is). May 4, 2019 at 8:24

1 Answer 1


I think the important phrase is act of, in the definition of "commemoration". An anniversary occurs without any active involvement. The anniversary of my wedding occurs on the same date each year, whether or not I buy my wife a gift. We might commemorate the anniversary by going out to dinner and exchanging gifts.

The example of Tiananmen Square is interesting, since China historically is adamant about not commemorating the anniversary of the event:

Several people have been arrested, or at least taken away for questioning, for attempting to mourn the victims publicly. One man was questioned for wearing a button that had the V-for-Victory sign and the word "Victory" on it in 1990. According to the New York Times, another man, in 1992, named Wang Wanxin "was dragged away after he tried to unfurl a banner calling on Deng Xiaoping [...] to apologize for the 1989 army crackdown". Some other modes of commemoration included 50 dissidents staging a 24-hour hunger strike in 2000 and private memorial services in people's houses. In 1999, Su Bingxian lit a candle for her son who was killed in the massacre, while others lit ten symbolic candles.

In short: the anniversary simply occurs a set number of years after the event. An anniversary may or may not be commemorated (celebrated).

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