How Hong Kong Is Dismantling the Memory of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

There has been months of discussion about what to do after the election. Pillar of Shame, a statue commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre on the campus of the University of Hong Kong, workers arrived in the middle of the night—dismantling and removing it.

Social media reports began to circulate late Wednesday night that there had been construction noises and security guards had put up plastic sheets around the statue. The top of the statue was seen wrapped in plastic and being carried off by cranes.

Since its 1997 handover from British colony to semi-autonomous Chinese territory, Hong Kong had been one of the only places in China that openly marked the events of June 4, 1989—when tanks rolled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and left what is believed to be hundreds, if not thousands of protesters, dead in a violent crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party.
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More than 180,000 people were estimated to have gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in 2019 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the crackdown. Beijing took control of Hong Kong in response to massive antigovernment protests. The commemoration of Tiananmen’s massacre was also included in the crackdown.

Numerous pro-democracy leaders are in prison, and many civil society organizations, such as the one that organised the Tiananmen Vigil, have been disbanded. The world’s only Tiananmen museum closed earlier this year over licensing issues.

The Tiananmen commemoration event has been banned for the last two years, with officials citing COVID-19 restrictions—although other large events have been allowed and nightclubs had been allowed to reopen a month before this year’s anniversary.

Twelve activists were sent to prison in December after participating in the banned Vigil. The media tycoon Jimmy Lai was also sentenced for a 13-month sentence. He was charged with inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly. Albert Ho, former chair of the organization that organised the annual gathering, was jailed for charges related to protests in 2019.

Hong Kong Tiananmen Monument
Kin Cheung–APThe “Pillar of Shame” statue, a memorial for those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, is displayed at the University of Hong Kong, Oct. 13, 2021.

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HKU issued a statement Thursday confirming the removal of the orange-colored sculpture, which shows corpses being piled up on top of one another. It said that approval was never granted to display the statue—which was erected in a prominent spot on campus more than 20 years ago—and that it had been put in storage. The university also said it was “very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue.”

The university had requested that the 26-foot statue be removed from its campus in October—sending a letter to a now disbanded civil society group that organized annual candlelight vigils to mark the Tiananmen Square massacre in Hong Kong. The request sparked protest and the law firm Mayer Brown, the university’s legal representative, withdrew from the case after facing international pressure.

Jens Galschiøt, the Danish sculptor who made the statue, said in a statement that he was shocked by its removal, and that he’d been trying to contact the university for several weeks to move the sculpture. “It is a disgrace and an abuse and shows that Hong Kong has become a brutal place,” he said.


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