More Tiananmen Monuments Purged from Hong Kong Universities
By Nicole M. Nepomuceno
Within 48 hours of the University of Hong Kong’s dismantling of the Pillar of Shame (1996) on the night of December 22, two more universities in Hong Kong removed memorials to the 1989 crackdown on student protesters in Beijing. Lingnan University, in Tuen Mun, tore down a sculptural relief depicting iconic scenes of the movement and massacre in Tiananmen Square. Additionally, a 2010 replica of the original Goddess of Democracy sculpture, erected by students in Beijing in 1989, was extracted from its location at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in Shatin early in the morning on December 24.
Lingnan University cited safety and legal concerns for its decision to take down the 2009 relief in a statement to the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on December 24: “The University has recently reviewed and assessed items on campus that may pose legal and safety risks to the University community. In the best interest of the University, items in question have been cleared, or removed and stored appropriately.” The 6.4-meter long and 2.3-meter tall relief, created by Chinese-born sculptor Chen Weiming, was dismantled into several pieces within two hours before being stored inside a building on campus. A large image of the Goddess of Democracy figure on a main wall at the University’s student union building was also painted over.
Concurrently, reporters found that by 6:30am at CUHK the only traces left of the Goddess of Democracy statue outside the University MTR station were rubble, a mobile crane, and workers washing the area where the memorial had stood for over a decade. Rumors had already been circulating regarding the statue’s pending removal following that of the Pillar at HKU, but students nonetheless were surprised it occurred so quickly.
Both Chen’s relief and the Goddess of Democracy were exhibited at Times Square in Causeway Bay in 2010 during the annual June 4 vigil before their relocation to their respective universities. After authorities had demanded the vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, remove the 6.4-meter Goddess of Democracy from Times Square, the CUHK student union sent a request to the school to place the statue on campus. Following its removal on Friday, CUHK stressed that it had, “never authorised the display of the statue on its campus,” and that with both the Alliance and student union now dissolved, “no organisation has claimed responsibility for its maintenance and management.”
Currently based in Los Angeles, Chen expressed his disappointment to HKFP that, like the Pillar’s sculptor Jens Galschiøt, he was not informed of artworks’ dismantling and conveyed concern over the current conditions of the monuments. Chen is considering legal action for damages incurred during the removal process.
Neither university informed students of the monuments’ removal. Later in the day, pieces of paper printed with the Chinese character for “shame” were posted at the site of the relief at Lingnan University, while CUHK students filled the statue’s barren space with photos, chrysanthemums, red candles, and booklets about the Tiananmen Massacre.
Since the passage of the national security law and the beginning of the pandemic, Hong Kong has banned June 4 vigils, citing social-distancing regulations. More than 24 politicians and activists have been charged for participating in an unauthorized 2020 event to mark the occasion.