The University of Hong Kong (HKU) caused mixed reactions after removing the Tiananmen massacre’s statue from its campus.
On Wednesday, Dec. 22, HKU dismantled and relocated the “Pillar of Shame,” which has commemorated pro-democracy protesters killed in China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for more than two decades.
The statue’s removal is the most recent action taken against individuals or organizations linked to the sensitive event of June. 4, 1989.
Under the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) national security laws, authorities have taken control of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, human rights groups claim that the law is being utilized to stifle civil society, arrest democracy activists, and limit fundamental freedoms.
“What the Communist Party wants is for all of us to just forget about this (Tiananmen). It’s very unfortunate,” John Burns, a political scientist at the University of Hong Kong for over 40 years, remarked.
“They would like it globally to be forgotten,” he added, according to Reuters.
The “Pillar of Shame” statue is a powerful reminder of Hong Kong’s broad range of freedoms guaranteed upon returning to the Chinese administration in 1997.
The statue’s creator, Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, said he was “totally shocked.” He stated that he would seek “compensation for any damage” to his artwork.
Galschiot, who estimated the statue’s value at $1.4 million, wants to return it to Denmark. He said that his presence in Hong Kong was necessary for the complicated operation. However, he also requested assurances that he would not be prosecuted.
“The HKU Council has requested that the statue be put in storage and that the University should continue to seek legal advice on any appropriate follow-up action,” it said in a statement, reports Reuters.
After hearing the news, many students came to campus early on Thursday, Dec. 23.
“The university is a coward to do this at midnight,” said Chan, a 19-year-old student. “I feel very disappointed as it’s a symbol of history.”
In a Facebook post, Wang Dan, a Tiananmen Square survivor who now lives in the United States, criticized the statue’s removal. “An attempt to wipe off history and memories written with blood,” he remarked.
The HKU board announced early on Thursday, Dec. 23, that it has decided to remove the statue “based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University.”
Security agents erected yellow barricades around the 26-foot-tall, two-ton bronze sculpture late Wednesday night, Dec. 22.
The statue was transported in a container on Thursday, Dec. 23. Following that, university personnel scattered pots of poinsettias, a favorite Christmas adornment in Hong Kong, around the statue’s previous location.
A few months earlier, the university sent a formal letter to the statue’s keepers, a group that held the annual June 4 vigil, requesting that it be removed. The group was disbanded amid a national security investigation.
In a statement, HKU stated that no entity had been granted permission to install the statue on campus. They also claimed that they have the right to take “appropriate actions” at any time. They also described the monument as “fragile” and warned that it could offer “potential safety issues.”
According to Chinese officials, the death toll in the Tiananmen Square crackdown is estimated to be approximately 300 individuals. However, human rights organizations and eyewitnesses said that thousands of people may have died.