The erasure of the student protesters who died in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 continues to pace with the removal of the so-called “Pillar of Shame” at the University of Hong Kong on Wednesday.
The statue, which shows piled-up corpses of Chinese students, was erected to commemorate the deaths of thousands of pro-democracy protesters killed by Chinese authorities in 1989. Before being torn down, the Pillar of Shame was one of the few public memorials in Hong Kong commemorating the incident.
In 2019, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to fight against the imposition of a new national security law imposed upon the island by the Communist government in Beijing. Hundreds have since been arrested and tens of thousands have found asylum in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada — among other countries.
Since taking over the island, Beijing has been cracking down on all politician dissent in Hong Kong, where once free speech was allowed, it may now result in a prison sentence.
Although highly suppressed in China, Hong Kong’s residents remained extremely vocal about the Tiananmen Square protests, where tens of thousands of Chinese students marched for greater political freedoms.
Thousands of people camped for weeks in Tiananmen Square, prompting the military to move in and clear it out by force. The Chinese government claims only 200 civilians and several dozen security personnel died. However, estimates provided by human rights organizations suggest that as many as 10,000 may have been killed.
“The decision on the aged statue was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university,” the university said in a statement. The University of Hong Kong had initially ordered the removal of the statue in October.
“The university is also very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue,” the statement added.
BBC’s Grace Tsoi reported:
For decades, Hong Kong prided itself on being the “conscience of China” — the only place in Chinese territory that had not forgotten the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Beijing had allowed the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the bloody incident, which also become part of Hong Kong's collective memory.
But under the national security law, the vigil organiser — the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China — was forced to disband, and many protest leaders were jailed. It is clear that Beijing will no longer tolerate any public display of defiance.
The monument had been standing on campus for more than two decades. Now, even it had to be dismantled and removed — in the dead of night.
There was the sound of cracking and drilling as the statue came down, but no one could see what was happening. To many, the abrupt removal felt like another affront to the city's identity.