The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has ordered the removal of a statue dedicated to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The massacre occurred on June 4, 1989, in Beijing, where at least 10,000 Chinese citizens, many of them young, pro-liberty protestors, were slaughtered by Communist Chinese soldiers.
The Pillar of Shame statue at HKU, created by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, has been displayed at the university’s campus for 24 years, reported BBC News. It is one of the few remaining memorials of Tiananmen Square within Chinese jurisdiction.
But the university wrote a letter to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKA), an activist group to which Galschiot loaned the statue.
The university said the decision was “based on the latest risk assessment and legal advice,” wrote BBC.
The HKA was disbanded last month after organizing the 2020 vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, reported BBC. Nine activists were arrested and sentenced to between six and 10 months in prison for taking part in the 2020 vigil, which was banned by authorities citing COVID measures.
“I wish that the Pillar stays in Hong Kong, at the same place it stands today,” Richard Tsoi, former chairman of the HKA told The Guardian. “The pillar is an important artwork that has a historic link to Hong Kong and should stay on Chinese land.”
Galschiot noted the pillar was likely to have become more fragile over the past two decades, so if it were to be damaged during the university’s removal process, he would take legal action.
“This is my property, so if they destroy it, then we will take action. I think there is still some legal system in place in Hong Kong to protect private property,” Galschiot told Reuters.
Believing the university was attempting to make a statement, Galschiot explained how this presented a shocking reality.
“So I think this is a warning, that we want to destroy this sculpture if you don’t pull it down. So this is a kind of mafia. I am really shocked,” Galschiot said.
The Tiananmen Square massacre is a taboo event in Chinese culture. In fact, it cannot be publicly commemorated in mainland China, Reuters reported.
In the 1980’s, China experienced unprecedented economic growth and exposure to classical liberalism, i.e., freer markets, less censorship, more individual freedom. Many university students led demonstrations to call for more individual rights and freedoms, which caused members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to suppress these protests, reported Brittanica.
In the spring of 1989, a former CCP official who had encouraged democratic reform died and was transformed into a martyr for political liberalization.
The same day as his funeral, tens of thousands of students gathered in Tiananmen Square and demanded reform. These protests continued for the next several weeks and spread to other Chinese cities.
The night of June 3, 1989, tanks and heavily armed troops flooded into Tiananmen Square and shot at or ran over any protesters who were in their way. Most of the protestors fled the square, but sporadic shootings occurred throughout the day.
The Chinese government claimed that 241 people, including soldiers, were killed, with about 7,000 wounded; however, studies and reports conducted outside of China argue that at least 10,000 people were killed.