Hong Kong’s statues are disappearing, but their symbolism may be harder to erase

Written by Oscar Holland, CNNHong Kong

Contributors Teele Rebane, Lizzy YeeCheryl Ho

Describes a bunch of screaming faces and contorted bodies,”Pillar of Shame“is more than just a reminder of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre – for many, it is also a symbol of freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

One of the very few memorials to victims of persecution accepted on Chinese soil, the statue’s presence at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has long been seen as a common ground of artistic censorship. art in semi-autonomous city. For some students, its lifting last Wednesday night was another sign that Beijing is tightening its grip.

“By removing this pillar…we can see that our freedom is being taken away, bit by bit, day by day,” said a student on campus the next morning. “It reminds me that (the Chinese Communist Party) is an illegitimate regime,” another said.

CNN agreed not to release the names of the students interviewed, because some of them feared retribution by the authorities. However, HKU emeritus professor John Burns was more open in his criticism. He said by email, the removal of memorials to the bloody military crackdown – a taboo subject on the mainland – showed “further erosion of HKU’s relative autonomy from the Chinese state.” “.

The "Pillar of Shame" statue, pictured at HKU campus on October 15, 2021.

The “Pillar of Shame” statue, taken at the HKU campus on October 15, 2021. Credit: Louise Delmotte / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images

Workers remove part of "Pillar of Shame" into a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021 in Hong Kong.

Workers unload part of the “Pillar of Shame” into a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021 in Hong Kong. Credit: Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

“HKU is not a government department and there is no need to register for official propaganda about the Tiananmen incident,” Burns added. “Not so far. But removing the statue has brought HKU and Hong Kong closer to official Tiananmen amnesia.”

HKU isn’t the only university taking advantage of the quiet winter break. On Christmas Eve, two other institutions – the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Lingnan University – deleted campus descriptions of a character known as the “Democracy Goddess”. Shows a woman holding a flaming torch above her head, the original statuette is built for the first time of students at Tiananmen Square during the 1989 pro-democracy protests and destroyed by the Chinese military during the crackdown.
Chen Weiming, the Chinese New Zealand artist behind the bronze copy at CUHK, said its removal showed the end of “one country, two systems”, the principle that protects freedom of expression. of Hong Kong. “One country, one system now,” he declare.

Like HKU’s regulator, which said it acted “based on outside legal advice and a risk assessment,” Lingnan University told CNN its decision after reviewing “the on campus may pose a legal and safety risk.” CUHK said in a statement that it “never authorized the display” of the statue on its premises.

The "Democracy Goddess" statue, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, before being removed last week.

The “Democracy Goddess” statue, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, before it was removed last week. Credit: Daniel Suen / AFP / Getty Images

The same site at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is pictured on December 24, 2021.

The same site at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is pictured on December 24, 2021. Credit: Bertha Wang / AFP / Getty Images

The fate of the fourth sculpture can also be balanced: reported ordered its student union to remove a copy of the “Democracy Goddess” from its campus. The university told CNN it only granted permission for the statue to stand until March 31, 2021, but did not comment on whether this means it will be forcibly removed.

Long-lasting legacy

For three decades, Hong Kong was the only place on Chinese-controlled land where an annual vigil was held to mark events in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The military crackdown remains one of the most heavily censored topics in mainland China, with discussion of it curtailed in the mass media. Chinese authorities have not released an official death toll, but estimates range from a few hundred to thousands.

The removal of the statues comes amid a broader crackdown in Hong Kong, following the introduction of a national security law in 2020 that criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The territory’s government has repeatedly denied allegations that the law curtailed freedoms, claiming instead that it restored order in the city after it was rocked by mass . Demonstration from 2019.
So far, the law has mainly targeted political activists and figures from pro-democracy media. But it also leaves those in academia and the arts uncertain about what is allowed. The past year has seen instances of both censorship and self-censorship, from paragraph about a new film censorship law aimed at “protecting national security” against famous artist Kacey Wong’s decision to live in free exile in Taiwan.
The disappearance of the statues may not be the end of the story. Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, the creator of the “Pillar of Shame”, said he hopes to get the work back and exhibit it elsewhere. HKU did not respond to CNN’s request for comment about the artist’s efforts to restore his work or the current whereabouts of the statue, last seen, placed in parts, to a container. The previous university speak It will be kept in stock.

“It’s still my property… if we get it, then we’ll (bring) it back to Europe, I’ll pool them and it’ll do a tour,” Galschiøt said. with CNN. “Right now, we plan to put it in Washington, DC, in front of the Chinese embassy, ​​just to show China that there’s a place in the world where we can talk about what happened last year.” 89″.

The controversy surrounding the sculpture means it will now be tied not only to the Tiananmen Square massacre but also to the erosion of Hong Kong’s artistic freedoms. But it’s not the only version created by Galschiøt – it’s not even the first. The original “Pillar of Shame” was erected in Rome to honor those who died of starvation worldwide prior to the Food and Agriculture Organization summit in 1996. Other versions of the work were later installed. placed in Mexico and Brazil in memory of the victims of the Acteal massacre and the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, respectively.

Protesters gather around the Hong Kong Statue of Liberty during a demonstration in the Central district of Hong Kong in September 2019.

Protesters gather around the Hong Kong Statue of Liberty during a demonstration in the Central district of Hong Kong in September 2019. Credit: Justin Chin / Bloomberg / Getty Images

The changing meaning of artwork is a reminder that destroying images can only enhance their symbolic power. Indeed, a copy of a crowdsource-designed statue depicting a masked pro-democracy protester, known as the “Lady Liberty”, was mutilated. all over Hong Kong since the original was pulled down and vandalized by unidentified attackers in October 2019. And the Chinese military’s decision to overthrow the original “Democracy Goddess” in 1989 means that Every year, on June 4, identical versions appear in cities around the world – from Taipei to Toronto – to mark the anniversary of the persecution.
Peking University students complete a statue of the Goddess of Democracy at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 30, 1989.

Peking University students complete a statue of the Goddess of Democracy at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 30, 1989. Credit: Jeff Widener / AP

Arts activist group Lady Liberty Hong Kong is hoping the “Pillar of Shame” will have a similar fate. The team used more than 900 photos to create a open source The 3D model of the work can be downloaded and used to recreate the statue with relative ease.
“The idea is that everyone can print a copy of it and put it anywhere they want,” the group’s founder, Alex Lee, speak by phone last week. “In the digital age, there’s no limit to what you can do with virtual or physical objects – (hopefully) everyone tries to preserve this symbolism.”

New Schools for Democracy, an NGO founded by Wang Dan, a long-exiled student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests, said it was raising funds to build built his own version – with Galschiøt’s blessing – in Taiwan. It hopes the sculpture will be completed by June 4 next year, to mark the 33rd anniversary of the massacre.

In a statement responding to the controversy last week, the founder and chairman of the US-based Campaign for Hong Kong, Samuel Chu, wrote that “Pillar of Shame” has translated from a “stonestone for freedom” to “a tombstone for freedom.”

He added: “The removal of public statues only exposes an iconic hole in the hearts and minds of all of us.

Top image: Visitors and students pose for a photo of the “Pillar of Shame” statue at the University of Hong Kong on October 11, 2021.


Source link


News7h: Update the world's latest breaking news online of the day, breaking news, politics, society today, international mainstream news .Updated news 24/7: Entertainment, the World everyday world. Hot news, images, video clips that are updated quickly and reliably

Related Articles

Back to top button