Students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) continued an annual tradition of cleaning a monument commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre to mark its 32nd anniversary on Friday.
Dozens of black-clad students turned up to clean the Pillar of Shame, an eight-metre tall statue of mangled bodies which commemorates the victims of Beijing’s 1989 crackdown.
“Thirty-two years ago today, students from Beijing were fighting for freedom and democracy, but they were brutally suppressed by the Chinese Communist Party,” HKU’s student union chairman Charles Kwok told HKFP. “What we are doing is just defending the historical truth and commemorating the people who were sacrificed in the incident.”
Several onlookers clapped as the group carried out the ritual. Campus security personnel were also on site and warned people present to observe proper social distancing measures. Covid-19 regulations currently limited public gatherings to four people.
On June 4, 1989, Beijing deployed its army to crack down on pro-democracy activists in the vicinity of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, crushing months of student-led, pro-democracy demonstrations in China. Historians estimate hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died. Beijing has never released an official death toll.
“The Hong Kong University Students’ Union… cleans the Pillar of Shame and repaints the Swire Bridge on June 4 annually to remember the bloody lesson, and the importance of democracy and freedom,” a statement from the union read.
The Pillar of Shame stands at the university’s Pok Fu Lam campus.
The pillar, created by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt in 1996, was moved to the University of Hong Kong campus by students in 1997 right after being exhibited at the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. It was repainted orange in 2018 as part of a “Free Tibet” campaign ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Another tradition of repainting an inscription that reads “Souls of martyrs shall forever linger despite the brutal massacre; Spark of democracy shall forever glow for the demise of evils” on a campus bridge was postponed due to the wet weather.
The annual tradition was carried out for the first time since Beijing imposed its national security law last June. The law has sparked concerns among democrats and rights advocates of diminishing academic freedoms and institutional autonomy of Hong Kong’s universities.
“We believe this event is totally legitimate and legal,” the student union chairman told HKFP, saying the union had not received any warnings from university management over Friday’s commemoration. “The student union has the autonomy to hold any events.”
There are also fears authorities are moving to erase memory of the massacre in Hong Kong, as an increasing number of opposition figures are jailed. References to the massacre are tightly censored on mainland China.
An annual candlelight vigil held at Victoria Park to commemorate the massacre was banned for the second year in a row last Thursday, with authorities citing public health concerns despite health officials announcing the official end of the city’s fourth wave of Covid-19 infections. The Security Bureau has warned anyone taking part in an unauthorised assembly could face up to five years in prison.
Two people, including a leader in the group that organises the vigil, were arrested for allegedly promoting an unauthorised gathering on Friday morning.
Additional Reporting by Kelly Ho.