Sculptor of dismantled Tiananmen statue says damage symbolic of Hong Kong struggle

HONG KONG, Dec.24 (Reuters) – The sculptor of a statue commemorating the victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on Friday said his withdrawal from a Hong Kong university was “brutal” but that all damage would be symbolic of recent changes in the city under Chinese rule.

The eight-meter (26-foot) sculpture of anguished human torsos was one of the few remaining public monuments in the former British colony to remember the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters – a taboo subject in mainland China, where it cannot be commemorated publicly.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) on Wednesday dismantled and removed the two-ton copper artwork, known as the “Pillar of Shame,” from the campus where it has stood for more than two decades, citing legal and other issues. Read more

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“Of course I could fix everything, but it might be nice to have some damage,” Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot told Reuters in an interview.

“It sounds strange, but it’s also a symbol. That’s what they’re doing for… Hong Kong.”

The university could not be reached for comment on Friday evening.

Workers remove part of Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot’s “Pillar of Shame” statue honoring victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Hong Kong, China , December 23, 2021 REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

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The statue was already seen by democracy activists as a key symbol of the vast freedoms promised in Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, which differentiated the global financial center from the rest of China.

The city has traditionally held the largest annual vigils in the world to commemorate the crackdown on Tiananmen Square. But it took an authoritarian turn after China imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 in response to the protracted and often violent pro-democracy protests the year before.

Human rights activists say the law is used to suppress civil society, imprison democracy activists and restrict fundamental freedoms. Authorities say he restored stability and insist that individual rights are intact.

Loud noises of power tools and chains rose from a closed area for hours on Wednesday evening before workers were seen carrying out separate parts of the statue and hoisting them on a crane to a container pending shipment. HKU said Thursday it had stored them.

“It’s brutal to move like they did,” said Galschiot. “No one would take it. No one should do that sort of thing. It’s really unfair.”

Communist Party leaders in Beijing have never provided a full account of the 1989 violence in and around Tiananmen Square. Authorities have taken a toll of around 300 dead, but human rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.

Two other Hong Kong universities removed the monuments from Tiananmen on Friday. Read more

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Reporting by Joyce Zhou; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Nick Macfie

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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