Kin Cheung / AP
26-foot-tall sculpture commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre should be removed of the University of Hong Kong campus in what activists see as the latest sign of Beijing’s suppression of freedom from the territory.
The university on Wednesday set a deadline for the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements – an activist group that was forced to disband last month – to remove the memorial. Representatives of the now-defunct group have requested more time, due to a typhoon that has hit the territory in recent days, but it is not clear whether the extension would be granted. Wednesday evening local time, the memorial appears to be staying at the university.
In a letter, the university insisted that if the sculpture is not removed by 5 p.m. on October 13, “it will be considered abandoned.”
Speaking this year at a ceremony on June 4 in which students wash the sculpture, a student activist told reporters: “We hope to stand up for historical truth as our freedom of speech is dwindling.”
The structure, known as the Pillar of Shame, is the work of Danish artist Jens Galschiot. Unveiled in 1997, it represents about fifty anguished and intertwined bodies which rise from the ground in a narrow pyramid. It is believed to be the only large memorial to the massacre still standing on Chinese soil. On June 4, 1989, People’s Liberation Army soldiers brutally evacuated pro-democracy protesters from Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Estimates of the number of fatalities range from hundreds to thousands.
Galschiot, the artist, called the sculpture’s removal an “attack on art”. He says the job was technically on an indefinite loan from him. He says he is discussing with Danish politicians the possibility of bringing him back to his home country. He also said he could end up elsewhere in Europe, Taiwan or the United States.
“It will take a long time to move the sculpture,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “It is an extremely valuable work of art, which after 24 years is probably a bit fragile. Therefore, there is a great possibility that the work of art will suffer irreparable damage if handled by others. as art experts. ” He warned the university that it “risked incurring a compensation claim” if the artwork was damaged.
In its legal quest to have the artwork removed, the university turned to the law firm Mayer Brown. The firm told the Hong Kong Free Press it was retained “as an outside lawyer [to] help our customers understand and comply with applicable law. “
“We have been asked to provide specific service on a real estate issue to our long-time client, the University of Hong Kong,” the firm said. “Our legal advice is not intended to be commentary on current or historical events.”
The order to pick up the sculpture follows a series of moves by Beijing to take more firmly control of Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 as part of a deal intended to secure that the territory would enjoy a certain autonomy and that fundamental freedoms would be guaranteed.
Last year, a series of massive protests erupted in Hong Kong against a bill to extradite residents of the territory to mainland China on certain high-level criminal cases. The law went into effect anyway. Beijing has also used the new strict National Security Law to end dissent in the territory and sought to purge pro-democracy lawmakers from the Hong Kong legislature.
A museum documenting the Tiananmen Square massacre has also been closed, and an annual vigil in Hong Kong to remember the June 4 victims has been banned and its organizers arrested.