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Pillar of Shame: Tiananmen 1989 Mass Murder Memorial Removed From Hong Kong University

Published: December 27, 2021
Workers-remove-Pillar-of-Shame-mourning-victims-Tiananmen-Square-University-of-Hong-Kong-Getty-Images-1237389114
Workers remove part of the "Pillar of Shame," a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt mourning the victims in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, into a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021, in Hong Kong, China. (Image: ANTHONY KWAN/Getty Images)

The Pillar of Shame, a memorial statue commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, was removed from the Hong Kong University (HKU) compounds on Dec. 23.

The take-down happened at the behest of the university’s board of directors citing “safety concerns” over its deed, contending it was done “for the best interest of the university.”

The creator of the monument, Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt responded in despair on Twitter over the removal.

“The Pillar of Shame is getting demolished right now in Hongkong,” Galschiøt wrote. “The sculpture has been covered and is heavyly guarded so that no students can document what is going on. This is happening in the middle of the night in Hongkong. Im shoked.”

The Hong Kong June 4 movement

Until two years ago, a massive outdoor candlelight vigil was held every year on June 4 to mourn the casualties of the Tiananmen massacre that transpired in 1989 when federal troops gunned down hundreds, maybe thousands of peaceful demonstrators rallying for more civil rights and democracy. 

However, Hong Kong authorities have outlawed the last two annual vigils, citing COVID-19 risks. 

The 8-meter (26-foot) tall Pillar of Shame symbolizes the numerous lives lost during the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. 

It consists of 50 warped and garbled bodies stacked on top of each other. Its purpose is “to remind us of a shameful event which must never recur,” Galschiøt told the BBC.

Deterioration of fundamental human rights

The dismantling is considered by many as another example of the deterioration of fundamental human rights in Hong Kong, critics say.

“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,” the artist told the outlet.

According to Galschiøt, the bodies symbolize the devaluation of the individual, while the statue conveys the ache and grief about what transpired. 

The pillar was erected in Hong Kong at the 1997 edition of the annual candlelight vigil in commemoration of the victims of the 1989 massacre. It was displayed at several academies in the metropolis before being placed permanently at the HKU.

However, “No party has ever obtained any approval from the university to display the statue on campus, and the university has the right to take appropriate actions to handle it at any time,” a university statement released on Thursday read, according to the Associated Press (AP).

“Latest legal advice given to the university cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the university based on the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government,” it said in an apparent attempt to shift the blame to the regime.

The demolition of the artwork followed shortly after “patriot” candidates loyal to the central regime gained a landslide win in the Hong Kong legislative elections after authorities modified election regulations to only allow only pro-Beijing nominees to compete.

READ MORE: Pro-CCP Candidates Sweep Hong Kong Election

Legal aftermath

The HKU didn’t reveal what it plans to do with the copper statue, which they cut into pieces and trucked off reportedly to put in storage. The university said it was still considering appropriate further legal steps.

Galschiøt offered to take it back to Denmark or elsewhere provided he would be granted legal immunity. He said there are opportunities to exhibit it at various places, including the Chinese embassies in Washington and Norway, or places in Canada, or Taiwan.

Galschiot also indicated that he might sue authorities if needed to retrieve it or receive compensation.