Los Angeles Times

Hong Kong removes sculpture marking massacre at Tiananmen


HONG KONG — A monument at a Hong Kong university that commemorat­es the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was removed by workers early Thursday over the objections of its creator from Denmark.

The 26-foot-tall “Pillar of Shame,” which depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies piled on top of one another, was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot to symbolize the lives lost during China’s bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Workers barricaded the monument at the University of Hong Kong late Wednesday night. Drilling sounds and loud clanging could be heard coming from the boarded-up site, which was patrolled by guards.

The dismantlin­g of the sculpture came days after pro-Beijing candidates scored a landslide victory in the Hong Kong legislativ­e elections, after amendments in voting laws allowed the vetting of all candidates to ensure that they are “patriots” loyal to Beijing.

The removal also happened in the same week that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam traveled to Beijing to report on developmen­ts in the Chinese territory. Hong Kong authoritie­s have silenced dissent after China implemente­d a sweeping national security law that appeared to target much of the territory’s pro-democracy movement following mass protests in 2019.

The “Pillar of Shame” monument became an issue in October, with the university demanding that it be removed, even as activists and rights groups protested. Galschiot offered to take it back to Denmark provided he was given legal immunity from prosecutio­n under Hong Kong’s national security law, but has not succeeded so far.

“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,” the university said in a statement Thursday.

“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.”

The university said it had requested that the statue be put in storage and would continue to seek legal advice on follow-up actions.

In October, the university informed the now-defunct candleligh­t vigil organizer, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, that it had to remove the statue after “the latest risk assessment and legal advice.”

The organizati­on had said that it was dissolving, citing a climate of oppression, and that it did not own the sculpture. The university was told to speak to its creator instead.

When reached by the Associated Press, sculptor Galschiot said he became aware of what was happening to the sculpture on Wednesday only because of social media and other reports.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but I fear they destroy it,” he said. “This is my sculpture, and it is my property.”

Galschiot said that he would sue the university if necessary to protect the sculpture.

He had previously written to the university to assert his ownership of the monument, although his requests had gone largely ignored.

More than 100 prodemocra­cy activists have been arrested since the national security law was implemente­d in Hong Kong. It outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs.

Critics say the law rolled back freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it was handed over to China by Britain in 1997.

The “Pillar of Shame” monument has been up for over two decades, and initially stood at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park before being moved to the University of Hong Kong on a long-term basis.

Each year on June 4, members of the now-defunct student union would wash the statue to commemorat­e the Tiananmen massacre. The city, together with Macao, were previously the only places on Chinese soil where commemorat­ion of the Tiananmen crackdown was allowed.

Over the last two years, the annual candleligh­t vigil in Hong Kong had been banned by authoritie­s, who cited public risks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-four people were charged over their roles in the Tiananmen vigil last year, during which activists turned up and thousands followed, breaking past barricades in Victoria Park to sing songs and light candles despite the police ban on the event.

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