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, taken at the HKU campus on October 15, 2021. Credit: Louise Delmotte / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images
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.”
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 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. Credit: Bertha Wang / AFP / Getty Images
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.
“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. Credit: Justin Chin / Bloomberg / Getty Images
Peking University students complete a statue of the Goddess of Democracy at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 30, 1989. Credit: Jeff Widener / AP
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.