A Hong Kong sculpture commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown is still standing after the deadline passed for its removal from a university campus, as China tightens its control over Asia’s main financial hub.
The University of Hong Kong had ordered the towering, 2-ton "Pillar of Shame" to be removed from its property by 5 p.m. Wednesday after receiving a “risk assessment and legal advice,” it said in a statement last week. But when the deadline came the university was still “working with related parties to handle the matter in a legal and reasonable manner,” it said in an emailed statement.
A typhoon that closed not only the Hong Kong stock market but also businesses and schools across the city had raised doubts earlier in the day over whether the order could safely be met. Confusion also lingered over who bore responsibility for removing the exhibit comprised of fused human bodies and featuring the inscription: “The old cannot kill the young forever.”
University officials said the sculpture belonged to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, but the group is disbanding after most of its leadership was arrested over democracy related activism.
The artwork’s Danish creator, Jens Galschiot, meanwhile, said he owned the “extremely valuable” piece and had mounted a last-minute legal challenge. His lawyer had written to university’s law firm requesting a hearing to ensure the 24-year-old artwork didn’t suffer “irreparable” damage, he said in a Tuesday statement.
The attempt to remove the sculpture was the latest move to suppress dissent in the former British colony, where dozens of prominent activists have been charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law and civil society groups have come under intense government scrutiny.
For the past two years, an annual candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing has been banned by authorities citing pandemic controls. Police recently closed a small museum dedicated to the event that has effectively been erased from history in mainland China.
“If the 'Pillar of Shame' suddenly disappears or is suddenly removed, it would represent a setback to the freedom of Hong Kong,” said Richard Tsoi, a former standing committee member of the alliance that brought the artwork to Hong Kong more than two decades ago and organized the June 4 vigil.
Tsoi, who is now liquidating the alliance, said there was no one left in the group to make decisions and that it had no resources to deal with dismantling the massive artwork. The university warned in a Oct. 7 letter sent by law firm Mayer Brown that it would deal with the statue “in such a manner as it thinks fit without further notice” if the deadline wasn’t met.
“I hope that my ownership of the sculpture will be respected and that I will be able to transport the sculpture out of Hong Kong under orderly conditions and without it having suffered from any damage,” Galschiot said in the statement.
“I am, of course, deeply concerned that it will not succeed and that the sculpture will be destroyed in connection with the move. I would like to emphasize that I consider any damage to the sculpture to be the responsibility of the university.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.