A statue at a Hong Kong university that was the most well-known public commemoration of the Tiananmen Square murder on Chinese soil was demolished early Thursday, leaving the city with no visible memorial to the violent 1989 crackdown.
The decision, according to several students at the University of Hong Kong, indicated the erosion of the relative freedoms they had previously enjoyed in comparison to mainland China.
The 8-meter (26-foot)-tall Pillar of Shame was created by Danish artist Jens Galschioet to represent the deaths lost during the military crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. It shows 50 broken and mangled bodies heaped on top of each other.
Many students at the Campus of Hong Kong, according to Billy Kwok, have treated the Pillar of Shame as if it were part of the university. It had been there for more than two decades at the institution.
After the artwork was removed, he commented, “It’s a sign of whether (there is still)… freedom of speech in Hong Kong.”
The university requested that the artwork be stored because it may pose “legal problems,” according to the university.
“No party has ever gotten any consent from the university to show the monument on campus, and the institution has the authority to take necessary steps to manage it at any time,” the university stated in a statement after it was taken down.
Members of the now-defunct student union would wash the monument every year on June 4 to memorialize the killing. The city, along with Macao, were the only sites on Chinese land where the crackdown could be commemorated.
Annual Tiananmen Square candlelight vigils have been outlawed for the last two years, and a private museum documenting the crackdown has been shut down. The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organized the yearly vigil and administered the museum, has since disbanded, with some of its senior members imprisoned.
The sculpture was demolished just days after pro-Beijing politicians won a resounding victory in Hong Kong legislative elections, thanks to changes to election procedures that allow candidates to be vetted to ensure they are “patriots” loyal to Beijing.
Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, flew to Beijing this week to report on the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s progress after Beijing enacted a sweeping national security law that looked to target most of the pro-democracy movement following large demonstrations in 2019.
In October, protestors and rights groups challenged a university proposal that the Pillar of Shame be repealed based on “the most recent risk assessment and legal advice.” Galschioet has promised to return it to Denmark if he is not charged under the national security statute, but has so far been unsuccessful.
Galschioet claims he’s been given a space for the sculpture in a park near the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., as well as offers from Norway, Canada, and Taiwan.
He compared removing the artwork to “driving a tank through Arlington Cemetery,” where American war soldiers are buried.
“In China, grave sacrilege is likewise frowned upon, but that is exactly what it is. He described it as “nearly a sacred monument.” “It’s a memorial sculpture for those who have passed away.”
Its removal, according to Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, is yet another troubling event in Hong Kong.
“The Danish government has no authority over the art shown by colleges in foreign countries. However, the freedom to peacefully express oneself — whether via speech, art, or other methods — is a perfectly essential right for all people, according to me and the government. He said, “This is also true in Hong Kong.”
The dismantling of the Pillar of Shame “doesn’t imply that history will be forgotten, and removing the pillar doesn’t mean that people won’t learn about the history,” according to Morgan Chan, a university staffer.
A student, Wang Luyao, had a more mixed opinion.
“Perhaps my knowledge of the Pillar of Shame is not as profound as locals or students from Hong Kong, and it is not as relevant to me,” Wang added.
“It’s like a monument for me, providing a path to comprehension.” It should also be regarded as a watershed moment for the University of Hong Kong.”