Late on Wednesday, a prominent statue commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre was taken from the University of Hong Kong.
To remember the hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy protestors killed by Chinese authorities in 1989, the statue depicted piled-up bodies. It was one of the few remaining public tributes to the incident in Hong Kong.
In 1989, Tiananmen Square in Beijing became the focal point for protestors advocating for greater political liberties. Thousands of people had slept in the area for weeks, but on June 3rd, the military went in and began firing.
According to the Chinese government, 200 civilians and a few dozen security officers were killed. Other estimates have ranged from a few hundred to tens of thousands.
In October, the university ordered the statue, known as the “Pillar of Shame,” to be removed. The Chinese government has frequently claimed safety and public health concerns as justifications for prohibiting commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre, such as vigils.
The first evidence that the statue was being removed came late Wednesday when university authorities erected a plastic sheeting barrier around it.
The 8-metre (26-foot) copper statue was dismantled overnight behind plastic barricades by construction workers. The statue, which has been on display on the university’s campus for 24 years, will be moved into storage, according to the university.
Last year, Beijing enacted a tough national security law that makes secession, subversion, terrorism, and cooperation with foreign forces illegal. Activists claim that the law is being used to stifle civil society, imprison democracy activists, and restrict basic liberties.
International outrage followed after troops and tanks opened fire on protestors.
For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong authorities prohibited the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in 2020, citing COVID limitations, while activists have accused local officials of caving into Beijing’s efforts to silence pro-democracy sentiment.
Nine pro-democracy Hong Kong activists were sentenced to six to ten months in prison in October for participating in the vigil. Jimmy Lai, a media mogul, was sentenced to 13 months in prison earlier this month for taking part in the same vigil.