‘Pillar of Shame’ Has Fallen: Tiananmen Square Statue Removed From HKU

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Dec 23, 2021 04:58 PM +05:30 IST
‘Pillar of Shame’ Has Fallen: Tiananmen Square Statue Removed From HKUPillar of Shame statue removed from HKU (Twitter)
  • On Wednesday night, 'Pillar of Shame', a statue commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during China's Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, was removed from the Hong Kong University's campus site.

A 26-foot-tall statue commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during China's Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 has been disassembled and removed from the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) campus site after more than two decades on 22 December.

The artwork, known as "Pillar of Shame” which depicts piled-up corpses of victims, is one of the few remaining public memorials in Hong Kong to commemorate the 1989 massacre, which is a taboo topic in mainland China.

Reports claimed that workers wrapped the statue in plastic and pulled it out of the campus on a crane in two halves, according to photos taken during the removal procedure.

Xinqi Su, who is AFP’s Hong Kong correspondent shared a video from the location on social media. She was approached by a security guard who asked her to stop recording.

Xinqi wrote on Twitter: “Whole area around the #PillarOfShame in #HKU has been covered up by white plastic sheets and surrounded by yellow boards. Lots of noises can be heard but security guards have been driving me away and asking me not to film, while refusing to answer what’s going on.”

Meanwhile the HKU Council, the governing body of the university—which in October first ordered the statue to be removed—stated that the sculpture will be kept in storage.

The university said: "The decision on the aged statue was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university. The university is also very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue."

Transforming Hong Kong

The removal of the iconic statue coincides with Beijing's increased crackdown on political dissent in Hong Kong.

The statue was a prominent symbol of Hong Kong's wide-ranging freedoms promised upon its return to Chinese authority, which distinguished the global financial powerhouse from the rest of China. To commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the city has traditionally conducted the world's largest annual vigils.

For taking part in a vigil last year remembering the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced to between six and 10 months in prison. They were among the 12 people who admitted to taking part in the incident. Three of the defendants were handed suspended sentences.

The university had issued a legal letter to the statue's custodians, a group that organised the annual 4 June vigils but has since disbanded amid a national security inquiry, requesting for it to be removed some months ago.

During the inquiry, authorities raided and closed a museum dedicated to the 1989 protests and massacre (15 April to 4 June 1989), as well as its online version is no longer available in Hong Kong.

The creator of ‘Pillar of Shame’ Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, said on Twitter: “The Pillar of Shame is getting demolished right now in Hong Kong. The sculpture has been covered and is heavily guarded so that no students can document what is going on. This is happening in the middle of the night in Hong Kong. I'm shocked.”

“It is completely unreasonable and a self-immolation against private property in Hong Kong,” he added.

He also told BBC, “This is a sculpture about dead people and [to] remember the dead people in Beijing in '89. So when you destroy that in this way then it's like going to a graveyard and destroying all the gravestones."

However, in a statement, HKU said that no party had ever received permission to display the statue on campus and that it had the right to take "appropriate actions" at any moment.

In a Facebook post, Tiananmen Square survivor Wang Dan, who now resides in the United States, called the removal "an attempt to wipe off history and memories written with blood".

As some local students visited the place after hearing the news, a 19-year-old student surnamed Chan, said: "The university is a coward to do this at midnight. I feel very disappointed as it's a symbol of history.”

But what happened at the university is somewhat expected considering how China is taking each step to transform Hong Kong completely.

Authorities in Hong Kong have been cracking down on civil society, jailing democracy activists, and restricting basic freedoms under the controversial National Security Law imposed by China in 2020, according to human rights organisations.

After large public protests in 2019, authorities claim that the law has restored order and stability. They claim that freedom of expression and other rights are unaffected and that the prosecutions are not motivated by politics. But critics and many Hong Kong residents think otherwise.

China has never given a complete account of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Officials put the death toll at around 300, but rights groups and witnesses say it might be thousands.

After troops and tanks opened fire on protestors, international outrage followed. On the mainland, the incident is regarded as highly politically sensitive and even oblique references to the events of 4 June are strictly prohibited.

John Burns, a political scientist at the institution for over 40 years said: "What the Communist Party wants is for all of us to just forget about this (Tiananmen). It's very unfortunate. They would like it globally to be forgotten."

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