Hong Kong’s statues are disappearing, however their symbolism could show more durable to erase

Written by Oscar Holland, CNNHong Kong

Contributors Teele Rebane, Lizzy YeeCheryl Ho

Depicting a heap of screaming faces and contorted torsos, the “Pillar of Disgrace” was not only a reminder of the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath — it was, for a lot of, an emblem of free speech in Hong Kong.
One of many vanishingly few memorials to the crackdown’s victims tolerated on Chinese language soil, the statue’s presence at College of Hong Kong (HKU) was lengthy thought of a bellwether of creative censorship within the semi-autonomous metropolis. Its removing final Wednesday evening was, for some college students, one other signal of Beijing’s tightening grip.

“By eradicating this pillar… we are able to see that our freedom is being taken away, little by little, day-to-day,” mentioned one scholar on campus the following morning. “It jogs my memory that the (Chinese language Communist Occasion) is an illegitimate regime,” one other mentioned.

CNN agreed to not disclose the names of scholars interviewed, as a number of of them feared retribution from authorities. HKU emeritus professor John Burns, nonetheless, was extra open in his criticism. Eliminating memorials to the bloody navy crackdown on unarmed principally scholar protesters — a taboo subject on the mainland — demonstrated “additional erosion of the relative autonomy of HKU from the Chinese language state,” he mentioned over electronic mail.

The “Pillar of Disgrace” statue, pictured on the HKU campus on October 15, 2021. Credit score: Louise Delmotte/Getty Photos AsiaPac/Getty Photos

Workers remove part of the "Pillar of Shame" into a container at University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021 in Hong Kong.

Employees take away a part of the “Pillar of Disgrace” right into a container at College of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021 in Hong Kong. Credit score: Anthony Kwan/Getty Photos

“HKU shouldn’t be a authorities division and needn’t subscribe to official propaganda in regards to the Tiananmen incident,” Burns added. “To this point it has not. However eradicating the statue strikes HKU and Hong Kong nearer to the official state of amnesia about Tiananmen.”

HKU was not the one college to seemingly reap the benefits of the quiet winter holidays. On Christmas Eve, two different establishments — the Chinese language College of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Lingnan College — eliminated on-campus depictions of a determine referred to as the “Goddess of Democracy.” Displaying a lady clutching a flaming torch above her head, the unique statue was first erected by college students in Tiananmen Sq. through the 1989 pro-democracy protests and destroyed by the Chinese language navy through the crackdown.
Chen Weiming, the Chinese language-New Zealander artist behind the bronze duplicate at CUHK, mentioned its removing indicated the tip of “one nation, two methods,” the precept that protects Hong Kong’s freedom of expression. “Now it is one nation, one system,” he declared.

Like HKU’s governing physique, which mentioned it acted “primarily based on exterior authorized recommendation and danger evaluation,” Lingnan College instructed CNN its choice adopted a evaluate into “gadgets on campus which will pose authorized and security dangers.” CUHK mentioned in a press release it had “by no means approved the show” of the statue on its grounds.

The "Goddess of Democracy" statue, in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, prior to its removal last week.

The “Goddess of Democracy” statue, within the Chinese language College of Hong Kong, previous to its removing final week. Credit score: Daniel Suen/AFP/Getty Photos

The same site at the Chinese University of Hong Kong pictured on December 24, 2021.

The identical website on the Chinese language College of Hong Kong pictured on December 24, 2021. Credit score: Bertha Wang/AFP/Getty Photos

The destiny of a fourth sculpture may cling within the stability: Authorities at Metropolis College of Hong Kong, one other establishment within the territory, reportedly ordered its scholar union to take away a “Goddess of Democracy” duplicate from its campus. The college instructed CNN it had solely ever granted permission for the statue to face till March 31, 2021, however didn’t touch upon whether or not this meant it could be forcibly eliminated.

Enduring legacies

For 3 a long time, Hong Kong has been the one place on Chinese language-controlled soil the place an annual mass vigil has been held to mark the occasions in and round Tiananmen Sq. on June 4, 1989, throughout which large-scale pro-democracy protests have been brutally crushed by armed Chinese language troops.

The navy crackdown stays some of the tightly censored matters in mainland China, with discussions of it scrubbed from mass media. Chinese language authorities haven’t launched an official dying toll, however estimates vary from a number of hundred to 1000’s.

The removing of the statues comes amid a broader clampdown in Hong Kong, following the enactment of a nationwide safety regulation in 2020 that criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with overseas forces.

The territory’s authorities has repeatedly refuted accusations that the laws has stifled freedoms, claiming it has as an alternative restored order within the metropolis after it was shaken by mass protests from 2019.
To this point, the regulation has primarily focused political activists and figures from pro-democracy media retailers. But it surely has additionally left these in academia and the humanities unsure about what’s permissible. The previous yr has seen situations of each censorship and self-censorship, from the passage of a brand new movie censorship regulation to “safeguard nationwide safety” to distinguished artist Kacey Wong’s choice to enter self-imposed exile in Taiwan.
The statues’ disappearance is probably not the tip of the story. Creator of the “Pillar of Disgrace,” Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, mentioned he hopes to reclaim the work and exhibit it elsewhere. HKU didn’t reply to CNN’s request for remark in regards to the artist’s makes an attempt to get better his creation or the present whereabouts of the statue, which was final seen being positioned, in components, right into a container. The college earlier mentioned it is going to be held in storage.

“It is nonetheless my property… if we get it, then we’ll (convey) it again to Europe, I will put it collectively and it’ll make a tour,” Galschiøt instructed CNN. “In the meanwhile, now we have a plan to place it in Washington, DC, in entrance of the Chinese language embassy, simply to indicate China that there is a place on this planet the place we are able to speak about what occurred in ’89.”

The controversy surrounding the sculpture means that it’s going to, now, be tied to not solely the Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath but additionally the erosion of Hong Kong’s creative freedoms. But it surely was not the one model created by Galschiøt — nor was it even the primary. The unique “Pillar of Disgrace” was erected in Rome to honor these killed worldwide by starvation forward of a Meals and Agriculture Group summit in 1996. Different variations of the work have been subsequently put in in Mexico and Brazil to commemorate the victims of the Acteal bloodbath and Eldorado dos Carajás bloodbath, respectively.

Demonstrators gather around the Lady Liberty Hong Kong statue during a rally in the Central district of Hong Kong in September 2019.

Demonstrators collect across the Woman Liberty Hong Kong statue throughout a rally within the Central district of Hong Kong in September 2019. Credit score: Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Photos

The paintings’s shifting that means is a reminder that destroying photos could solely serve to strengthen their symbolic energy. Certainly, replicas of a crowdsource-designed statue depicting a masked pro-democracy demonstrator, referred to as “Woman Liberty,” have cropped up throughout Hong Kong because the authentic was pulled down and vandalized by unidentified assailants in October 2019. And the Chinese language navy’s choice to topple the unique “Goddess of Democracy” in 1989 signifies that yearly, on June 4, similar variations seem in cities around the globe — from Taipei to Toronto — to mark the crackdown’s anniversary.
Beijing University students put the finishing touches on the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, May 30, 1989.

Beijing College college students put the ending touches on the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Sq. in Beijing, Might 30, 1989. Credit score: Jeff Widener/AP

Artwork-activist group Woman Liberty Hong Kong is hoping the “Pillar of Disgrace” can have an analogous destiny. The group has used greater than 900 photographs to create an open supply 3D mannequin of the work that may be downloaded and used to breed the statue with relative ease.
“The concept is that everybody can print a duplicate (of) it and place it wherever they need,” the group’s founder, Alex Lee, mentioned over the telephone final week. “Within the digital age, there is no limitation of what you are able to do with digital or bodily objects — (the hope is) for everybody to attempt to protect this image.”

The New College for Democracy, an NGO based by Wang Dan, a long-exiled scholar chief of the Tiananmen Sq. protests, mentioned it’s elevating funds to construct its personal model — with Galschiøt’s blessing — in Taiwan. It hopes the sculpture shall be accomplished by June 4 subsequent yr, to mark the bloodbath’s thirty third anniversary.

In a press release responding to final week’s controversy, founder and president of the US-based Marketing campaign for Hong Kong, Samuel Chu, wrote that the “Pillar of Disgrace” had reworked in that means from a “touchstone for freedom” to “a tombstone for freedom.”

“Eradicating the general public statues solely reveals the statue-shaped gap within the hearts of minds of all of us,” he added.

High picture: Guests and college students take photographs of the “Pillar of Disgrace” statue on the College of Hong Kong on October 11, 2021.