Hong Kong university removes Tiananmen sculpture in the middle of night

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  • Jens Galschiøt
    Danish sculptor
Hong Kong Tiananmen Monument (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Hong Kong Tiananmen Monument (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A sculpture commemorating the hundreds of people killed in Beijing's 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was removed from the University of Hong Kong during the wee hours on Thursday.

The statue's removal comes amid Beijing's aggressive crackdown on political dissent in Hong Kong in the wake of the pro-democracy protests.

The 26-feet-tall 'Pillar of Shame', which depicts 50 torn, twisted and anguished bodies piled upon each other, has been on display at the university for more than two decades.

It was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot and gifted to the civil society group Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China in 1997 to commemorate the hundreds of pro-democracy protesters killed by the state on 4 June 1989.

The sculpture was dismantled late on Wednesday night after workers barricaded the monument. Drilling sounds and loud clanging could be heard coming from the guard-patrolled and boarded-up site.

University students clean the
University students clean the

Earlier in October, the university demanded the statue be removed after the civil society group that traditionally organised a vigil was disbanded by Beijing.

The Danish sculptor had then offered to take it back to his country, provided he was given legal immunity that he won’t be persecuted under Hong Kong’s national security law. The statue is valued at around $1.4m (£1.04m).

"I can understand from the press that the introduction of the new security legislation in Hong Kong means that there is a legal basis for arresting foreign nationals who engage in activities that criticise China,” he had written in an open letter to authorities in November.

In 2020, Beijing implemented the controversial national security law in a sweeping crackdown against dissent in the country. Since then more than 120 people, including opposition leaders and journalists, have been arrested under the draconian law.

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

It was also the same week that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam travelled to Beijing to report on developments in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

“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.

“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," it added. The statue has been put in storage.

The sculptor of the statue told The Associated Press that he was only aware of what was happening through social media and reports.

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

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