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The Pillar of Shame for China: Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square statue removed

A famous statue at the University of Hong Kong marking the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed late on Wednesday.

A famous Hong Kong University statue marking the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed late Wednesday.

The statue depicts a pile of corpses to commemorate the hundreds – possibly thousands – of pro-democracy protesters killed by Chinese authorities in 1989.

It was one of the few memorials left in Hong Kong to commemorate the event.

Its removal comes as Beijing continues to end political infighting in Hong Kong.


The city has long been one of the few places in China that has allowed public memory of the protests in Tiananmen Square – the country’s most pressing issue.

In 1989, Tiananmen Square in Beijing became a focal point for protests for political independence. Thousands of people camped for weeks in the square, but in June soldiers stormed in and soldiers opened fire.
The Chinese government says 200 civilians and several security personnel have died. Some estimates range from hundreds to 10,000.

The university first ordered the removal of the statue – called the Pillar of Shame – in October.

“The decision on the old model was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the benefit of the university,” the statement said on Thursday.


“The university is also very concerned about the security that could result from this fragile image.”

Chinese authorities have previously cited public safety or health concerns as an excuse to block events such as the vigil of commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The first sign that the statue was taken down appeared on Wednesday night, when university officials surrounded the area with plastic.

Construction workers worked all night to cover the plastic borders to demolish the 8m (26ft) bronze statue. Security guards prevented reporters from approaching and tried to prevent them from recording.


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Like underestimating the identity of the city

For decades, Hong Kong has been proud of its “Chinese conscience” – the only place in China that has not forgotten the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Beijing has hosted an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate this gruesome event, which is also part of the unified Hong Kong monument.


But under national security law, the organizer of the protest – the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China – was forced to disband, and several protest leaders were arrested. It is clear that Beijing will no longer tolerate any public display of contempt.

The monument has been standing in the school for more than two decades. Now, it had to be disbanded and removed – at night.

There was a crack in the ground, but no one could see what was happening. To many, the sudden removal seemed like another insult to the city.

The deleted photo shows a column of torn and twisted bodies with a depressed face, “a reminder of a shameful event that should never happen again”, according to its sculptor, Jens Galschiot.


The university has said it will keep the image, which has been on display at the university campus 24 years ago.

Galschiot called the removal “really brutal” and that he would consider filing a lawsuit against the authorities and demanding compensation.

“This is a picture of the dead and [remember] the people who died in Beijing in 1989. So if you destroy it in this way it is like going to the cemetery and destroying all the gravestones,” he told BBC’s Newshour. .

A student leader who survived the Tiananmen massacre and now lives in the US, Wang Dan, strongly condemned the move and accused the Chinese Communist Party of trying to “hide their crimes”.


“The Hong Kong government … has used this heinous act in an attempt to erase this bloody chapter of history,” he wrote on Twitter.

University of Hong Kong student Billy Kwok, 22, told Reuters that the removal of the image was “very painful”.

“It’s really weird … I don’t think people would have expected this to happen at a university,” he said, adding that the building should have been a place to support “so-called freedom of speech or freedom of speech”.

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Why is its removal important?

“[The statue] was one of the few remaining monuments, of public [demolition] … and a memorial to the free past of Hong Kong,” Dr Ian Chong, a professor at the National University of Singapore, told the BBC.

“[Its removal] removes another public focus to commemorate the tragedy … [and] it seems to indicate that the governments of Hong Kong and Beijing will no longer be able to tolerate public demonstrations commemorating the events of June 4th.”

The removal of the statue comes after the Hong Kong parliamentary elections, which were marred by irregularities and by those running for office in Beijing, which Dr. Chong called “symbolic”.

Beijing also introduced a strong national security law last year that criminalized secession, coup, terrorism and co-operation with foreign forces. Activists say the law is being used to oppress the public, to imprison democratic candidates and to restrict basic freedoms.
What were the protests in Tiananmen Square?


There has been international criticism after soldiers and tanks opened fire on protesters.

The incident is considered to be the most politically sensitive on the continent and the authorities have banned even trivial clues in the June 4 incident.

In 2020, Hong Kong authorities shut down the annual Tiananmen commemoration of Tiananmen for the first time in 30 years, citing Covid’s restrictions – although activists have blamed local officials for defying pressure from Beijing to shut down democracy.

In October, nine pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were sentenced to between six and ten months in prison for participating in the protest.


Earlier this month, media tycoon Jimmy Lai also received 13 months in prison for participating in the same vigil.


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