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The famous ‘Pillar of Shame’ statue in Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square has been removed

For more than 20 years, the sculpture “Pillar of Shame” stood as a memorial to the victims of 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which the Chinese military crushed university student-led protests in Beijing with deadly force.
Standing on the podium of the University Hong KongThe grounds of the (HKU), a 26-foot (8-meter) tall disfigured human figure, is one of the last remaining iconic memorials to the victims of bloody persecution. above Hong Kong soil.

But around midnight on Thursday, yellow construction barriers were erected around the statue and the sounds of cracking and destruction were heard as the sculpture was lifted under the cover of shadow. dark.

Pictures taken during the relocation show workers wrapping the statue in protective film and lifting it out of the premises on a crane in two clear sections. The HKU Board, the university’s governing body, said in a statement that the sculpture would be kept.

Two children looking at "Pillar of Shame" statue at the University of Hong Kong campus on October 15, 2021 in Hong Kong.

Two children look at the “Pillar of Shame” statue at the University of Hong Kong campus on October 15, 2021 in Hong Kong. Credit: Louise Delmotte / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images

A witness said Thursday morning the sculpture’s site was now empty and students cried on campus after it was removed. CNN agreed not to release the name of this witness because he feared being punished by authorities.

Fear of retribution is common among those who speak out against the government in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed a National Security Law on the city in 2020, punishing crimes such as subversion and secession. by judgments. up to life in prison.

The HKU board said in a statement the removal was “based on outside legal advice and a risk assessment in the best interest of the university.”

The sculpture, housed in the university’s Haking Wong Building, is part of a series of works by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt created in 1997 – the year Hong Kong was returned to China after more than 150 years of colonial rule. British rights. The sculpture reads: “Old people can’t kill the young forever” and was built to serve “as a warning and reminder to people of a shameful event that should never happen again.” “, as described on Galschiøt’s website.

Galschiøt called the removal of the statue “a very difficult attack against the word freedom in the world.”

He told CNN he hopes to bring the statue back to Denmark so it can be reassembled. His wish is to then bring it to Washington DC, where he hopes to place it in front of the Chinese Embassy. There, it will serve as a message to Beijing that the massacre is remembered and talked about, he said.

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 persecution 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.

Security guards stand in front of barricades erected around the 26-foot-tall building "Pillar of shame."

Security guards stood in front of barricades erected around the 26-foot-tall “Pillar of Shame”. Credit: Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images

After the 1997 handover, the continuation of memorials and similar memorials was seen as a test of Hong Kong’s ongoing autonomy and democratic freedoms, as promised. in the actual constitution.

However, according to the national security law, scores of prominent pro-democracy politicians and activists was jailed or fled the city, and many civil society groups disbanded.

Efforts to celebrate the June 4 events have also been adversely affected.

The two most recent Tiananmen guards were banned by the police, citing coronavirus restrictions. Famous activists, including Joshua Wong and media mogul Jimmy Lai, the latter jailed for participating during an unauthorized public celebration in 2020.
A Hong Kong museum dedicated to the victims of June 4 is forced to close earlier this year and moved his entire collection online under the pretext of “political oppression”.
A security guard stands in front of a shipping container as a barrier and guards protect "Pillar of Shame" at the University of Hong Kong, when the sculpture was removed.

A security guard stands in front of a shipping container as a barrier and security people guard the “Pillar of Shame” at the University of Hong Kong, as the sculpture is removed. Credit: Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images

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

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

Following news of the sculpture being dismantled, artist Galschiøt wrote on his Twitter account, “I’m absolutely shocked that the University of Hong Kong is currently demolishing the shameful pillar. It’s completely ridiculous. and a self-immolation on private property in Hong Kong.”

“We encourage people to go to the University of Hong Kong and document everything that happens to the sculpture,” he added in a statement.

In its statement, the HKU Board said, “None of the parties has received any approval from the University to display the statue on campus, and the University reserves the right to take appropriate action to deal with the matter.” handle it at any time.”

Close "Pillar of shame."

Close-up of “Pillar of Shame.” Credit: Louise Delmotte / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images

It adds the university is “also very concerned about the potential safety issues posed by the fragile statue. The latest legal advice issued to the University warns that continued display of the statue will result in the statue’s fragility.” poses a legal risk to the University based on the Crime Ordinance issued under the Hong Kong Colonial Government.”

Efforts to preserve the sculpture’s memory are already underway, with art activist group Lady Liberty Hong Kong creating a 3-D model made using more than 900 photographs.

“The idea is that people can print a copy and put it anywhere they want,” said Alex Lee, founder of the group. “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.”

The process of rendering the 3D model of "Pillar of Shame" (left) and model (right).  The model has been available for download and print since October.

3D rendering process of “Pillar of Shame” (left) and model (right). The model has been available for download and print since October. Credit: Lady Liberty HK polite

According to Lee, the statue represents something of a fundamental difference between Hong Kong and mainland China. “It (the statue) symbolizes that Hong Kong still has room for free speech and it really means that Hong Kong is still a different part of China,” Mr. Lee said. “But then I think right now, that last really small space is gone.”

On Sunday, Hong Kong’s first legislative election “only for patriots in China” saw a Voter turnout is at a record low, which reflects a dramatic drop in civic and political participation after Beijing overhauled the city’s electoral processes earlier this year.

Following the vote, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who supported her administration and praised her for transforming the city “from chaos”. to order,” according to a government statement during the meeting.

Call the election – in which turnout was just 30.2% – a “success”. Mr. Xi said the city had “made solid progress in promoting democratic development in line with Hong Kong’s realities.”

“The democratic rights of Hong Kong people have been demonstrated,” Xi said.

Some Hong Kong activists who fled abroad have viewed the election – in which potential candidates are screened for the first time by the government – as a “spoof”, a criticism echoed by many human rights groups. and international observers objected.

Top image: Workers unload part of the “Pillar of Shame” into a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021.

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