No longer to be found at the University of Hong Kong
After blogging about a Hong Kong movie I had enjoyed viewing last night (i.e., Amos Why's Far Far Away), I went over to Twitter to catch up on the news. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't -- for I found AFP's Xinqi Su Tweeting about something that we knew was but a matter of time but still hurt when it finally did happen: the removal of the Pillar of Shame from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) campus; and not in one piece to boot.
Earlier this week, outgoing HKU council chairman, Arthur Li, had brought up the subject of this eight meter tall memorial to the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre created by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt in 1996 that was installed at the HKU campus on June 5th, 1997, after being silent about it for a couple of months. In particular, he wondered who it actually belonged to -- something which was rather suspect since Galschiøt has been stating for months now that he is the statue's rightful owner.
In retrospect, Arthur Li's utterances can be seen as an assertion that, with the ownership of the Statue of Shame not being clear, the university felt able to do with it what as they willed: and, as was stated back on October 8th, what the university's authorities were seeking was the removal, if not outright destruction, of the memorial from its campus.
As for the timing: The suspicion is that it matters less that it came days after a former leader of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Leung Kam-wai, was sentenced to three months in prison and more that it's just a few days after the Legislative Council "elections" on Sunday didn't go the way that the Hong Kong government (and, no doubt, Beijing's too) had hoped. For while the Legislative Council is now a rubber stamp body (thanks to no members of the opposition electing to take part in it), the voting percentage for the "election" was Hong Kong's lowest ever -- with only 30 percent of eligible Hong Kongers deciding to take part in the polls!
As a member of the Twitterati (who goes by Hintman) Tweeted: "Hong Kong government is sad about lowest ever election turn out and a couple days later the #PillarOfShame gets covered up and something is going down... Destroying art now to wipe out the past and be vindictive? Wouldn't put it past Beijing and Carrie Lam."
On a more general note, as another member of the Twitterati (this one with the handle Tiger Milk Mushroom) bemoaned: "This has been the pattern since 2019. HKers filled with hope for a day or a collective joy about something only for it to be punished or scolded the next day. Whatever it is they are doing to the Pillar of Shame is precisely that. Punishment."
The fact that HKU's shameful action was undertaken under the cover of night and white tarpaulin sheets for the most part points to there being a degree of guilt on the part of its perpetuators. At the very least, they knew that it would make for terrible optics for, as history professor Jeppe Mulich Tweeted, "an institution of higher learning [to be] destroying a monument commemorating the massacre of students".
What they were unable to account for was intrepid journalists (like Xinqi Su) and others who were determined to bear witness to the shameless act being undertaken. And they couldn't hide the sounds of destruction being wreaked that come across very clearly in such as the video clips shared by Razven on Twitter ((see (and hear) examples here and here). The result: a lot of people feeling sickened by what they heard alone as well as knew was going on even if they couldn't actually see what was being enacted.
One day on, we now have fuller reports of what happened last night and also some remarkable visual images. And trust me when I say that the sense of sadness and revulsion regarding what has happened to the Pillar of Shame has remained. As its creator, Jens Galschiøt told the BBC: "This is a sculpture about dead people and [to] remember the dead people in Beijing in '89. So when you destroy that in this way then it's like going to a graveyard and destroying all the gravestones".
Then there's the matter of what this means with regards to Hong Kong. The way U.S.-based activist Samuel Chu sees it: "Its creation in 1997 was a touchstone for freedom in Hong Kong; its destruction in 2021 would be a tombstone for freedom in Hong Kong."