Pro-democracy activists carried out the annual cleaning of the “Pillar of Shame” monument at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on Sunday to commemorate the upcoming 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Four members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China — including former lawmaker Albert Ho and barrister Chow Hang-tung — gathered to light candles and clean the statue as part of the annual tradition.

They also observed a moment of silence to remember the victims of the 1989 crackdown.

Hong Kong Alliance’s Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The Tiananmen massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. Historians estimate that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing.

Hong Kong Alliance’s Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Candles were lit in the formation of the roman numerals “6” and “4” in a reference to the date “June 4.” The four activists also shouted pro-democracy slogans, including “justice for the victims of 1989,” “end one-party rule,” “release all political prisoners,” and “power belongs to the people.”

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Sunday’s “washing” of the 8 metre statue occurred amid mounting fears similar events to remember the Tiananmen victims will soon be banned in the city under Beijing’s sweeping national security law, which has been used to arrest 100 people.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Albert Ho told HKFP that he hoped the Alliance would be able to return every year to carrying out the ceremony: “This just a very simple ceremony of cleaning this pillar of shame which has been erected here for over two decades. It is a monument symbolising the freedom of speech at the university. I see no reason why this simple commemorative activities should be disallowed.”

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“This is to reaffirm our commitment to uphold our belief,” Ho added, “to show we will continue to exercise our freedom of expression.”

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

When asked about fears the statue may be removed entirely, Ho said any move to remove “a symbol of freedom of speech and expression would be met with “strong resistance” in the community and would be be “condemned by history.”

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

HKU cuts ties

The annual cleaning of the statue has been performed separately by the Alliance and the city’s university students since 2015 amid disagreements over calls for democracy in China.

This year’s ritual took place amid heightened security. A HKFP reporter spotted at least six campus security personnel observing and video-recording the ceremony.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The event also follows increasing tension between universities and their student bodies as management warn students to refrain from political activities.

On Friday, HKU announced it will cut ties with its student union, citing an “increasingly politicised” student body and legal risks linked to national security.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In response, the union expressed its “deepest regret,” saying the split will have “far-reaching impact” on its operations. “This act has severely undermined the interests of students,” a statement read.

Activists fear the statue, created by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, could disappear from outside the union should the university take over the union’s premises.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

It comes amid growing fears that the memory of the massacre will be stamped out in Hong Kong beyond campuses. The government effectively banned the upcoming vigil on June 4 at Victoria Park for the second year in a row last week, citing again pandemic concerns.

The bronze statue of twisted bodies was created in 1996 and includes the inscription “the old cannot kill the young.” It has stood on HKU’s campus since 1997 to highlight human rights abuses in mainland China.

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.