HomeWorld NewsHong Kong's statues are disappearing, but their symbolism may prove harder to...

Hong Kong’s statues are disappearing, but their symbolism may prove harder 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 Shame” was not only a reminder of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre — it was, for a lot of, an emblem of free speech in Hong Kong.
One of the vanishingly few memorials to the crackdown’s victims tolerated on Chinese soil, the statue’s presence at University of Hong Kong (HKU) was lengthy thought of a bellwether of artistic 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 removing this pillar… we can see that our freedom is being taken away, bit by bit, day by day,” mentioned one pupil on campus the subsequent morning. “It reminds me that the (Chinese Communist Party) 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 mostly student protesters — a taboo matter on the mainland — demonstrated “further erosion of the relative autonomy of HKU from the Chinese state,” he mentioned over electronic mail.

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

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

Workers take away a part of the “Pillar of Shame” right into a container at University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021 in Hong Kong. Credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

“HKU is not a government department and need not subscribe to official propaganda about the Tiananmen incident,” Burns added. “So far it has not. But removing the statue moves HKU and Hong Kong closer to the official state of amnesia about Tiananmen.”

HKU was not the one college to seemingly make the most of the quiet winter holidays. On Christmas Eve, two different establishments — the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Lingnan University — eliminated on-campus depictions of a determine generally known as the “Goddess of Democracy.” Showing a lady clutching a flaming torch above her head, the unique statue was first erected by college students in Tiananmen Square in the course of the 1989 pro-democracy protests and destroyed by the Chinese navy in the course of the crackdown.
Chen Weiming, the Chinese-New Zealander artist behind the bronze reproduction at CUHK, mentioned its removing indicated the tip of “one country, two systems,” the precept that protects Hong Kong’s freedom of expression. “Now it’s one country, one system,” he declared.

Like HKU’s governing physique, which mentioned it acted “based on external legal advice and risk assessment,” Lingnan University informed CNN its determination adopted a assessment into “items on campus that may pose legal and safety risks.” CUHK mentioned in a press release it had “never authorized the display” 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 University of Hong Kong, prior to its removing final week. Credit: Daniel Suen/AFP/Getty Images

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

The similar website on the Chinese University of Hong Kong pictured on December 24, 2021. Credit: Bertha Wang/AFP/Getty Images

The destiny of a fourth sculpture may additionally grasp within the steadiness: Authorities at City University of Hong Kong, one other establishment within the territory, reportedly ordered its pupil union to take away a “Goddess of Democracy” reproduction from its campus. The college informed CNN it had solely ever granted permission for the statue to stand till March 31, 2021, but didn’t touch upon whether or not this meant it will be forcibly eliminated.

Enduring legacies

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

The navy crackdown stays probably the most tightly censored matters in mainland China, with discussions of it scrubbed from mass media. Chinese authorities haven’t launched an official demise toll, but estimates vary from a number of hundred to hundreds.

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.
So far, the regulation has primarily focused political activists and figures from pro-democracy media outlets. But it has additionally left these in academia and the humanities unsure about what’s permissible. The previous yr has seen cases of each censorship and self-censorship, from the passage of a brand new movie censorship regulation to “safeguard national security” to distinguished artist Kacey Wong’s determination to enter self-imposed exile in Taiwan.
The statues’ disappearance may not be the tip of the story. Creator of the “Pillar of Shame,” 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 elements, right into a container. The college earlier said it will likely be held in storage.

“It’s still my property… if we get it, then we’ll (bring) it back to Europe, I’ll put it together and it will make a tour,” Galschiøt informed CNN. “At the moment, we have a plan to put it in Washington, DC, in front of the Chinese embassy, just to show China that there’s a place in the world where we can talk about what happened in ’89.”

The controversy surrounding the sculpture means that it’s going to, now, be tied to not solely the Tiananmen Square bloodbath but additionally the erosion of Hong Kong’s creative freedoms. But it was not the one model created by Galschiøt — nor was it even the primary. The authentic “Pillar of Shame” was erected in Rome to honor these killed worldwide by starvation forward of a Food and Agriculture Organization summit in 1996. Other 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 Lady Liberty Hong Kong statue throughout a rally within the Central district of Hong Kong in September 2019. Credit: Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The art work’s shifting which means is a reminder that destroying pictures may solely serve to strengthen their symbolic energy. Indeed, replicas of a crowdsource-designed statue depicting a masked pro-democracy demonstrator, generally known as “Lady Liberty,” have cropped up across Hong Kong for the reason that authentic was pulled down and vandalized by unidentified assailants in October 2019. And the Chinese navy’s determination to topple the unique “Goddess of Democracy” in 1989 signifies that yearly, on June 4, an identical variations seem in cities all over the world — 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 University college students put the ending touches on the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, May 30, 1989. Credit: Jeff Widener/AP

Art-activist group Lady Liberty Hong Kong is hoping the “Pillar of Shame” can have the same destiny. The group has used greater than 900 photographs to create an open source 3D mannequin of the work that may be downloaded and used to reproduce the statue with relative ease.
“The idea is that everyone can print a copy (of) it and place it wherever they want,” the group’s founder, Alex Lee, said over the cellphone final week. “In the digital age, there’s no limitation of what you can do with virtual or physical objects — (the hope is) for everyone to try to preserve this symbol.”

The New School for Democracy, an NGO based by Wang Dan, a long-exiled pupil chief of the Tiananmen Square protests, mentioned it’s elevating funds to construct its personal model — with Galschiøt’s blessing — in Taiwan. It hopes the sculpture will probably 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 Campaign for Hong Kong, Samuel Chu, wrote that the “Pillar of Shame” had remodeled in which means from a “touchstone for freedom” to “a tombstone for freedom.”

“Removing the public statues only reveals the statue-shaped hole in the hearts of minds of all of us,” he added.

Top picture: Visitors and college students take photographs of the “Pillar of Shame” statue on the University of Hong Kong on October 11, 2021.

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