The now-defunct organiser of Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigils has told the University of Hong Kong (HKU) to get in touch with the artist behind the Pillar of Shame, after the group was ordered to remove the monument by Wednesday, despite a T8 typhoon warning remaining in force across the city.

Richard Tsoi, one of the liquidators of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, wrote to Mayer Brown, the law firm representing HKU, on Wednesday – the deadline the university had set for the statue’s removal.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Tsoi wrote that the university should contact Jens Galschiøt, the Danish sculptor who created the artwork, which pays tribute to victims of Beijing’s bloody 1989 crackdown. Galschiøt has claimed ownership of the statue.

“‘The Pillar of Shame’ belongs to its creator, Danish sculptor Mr. Jens Galschiøt, and was transported to Hong Kong for permanent exhibition in 1997, before the 8th anniversary [of the massacre],” Tsoi’s letter read.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The former member of the Alliance’s executive committee also said that, since Galschiøt had already contacted a lawyer about the matter, “a more appropriate way in the future” was for HKU to discuss the matter with the artist’s lawyer directly.

The now-disbanded Alliance received the artwork in 1997. It voted last month to disband after a crackdown under the national security law saw its leadership arrested and charged, and its property frozen.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Mayer Brown told HKFP that they were acting “as outside counsel is to help our clients understand and comply with current law.”

“We were asked to provide a specific service on a real estate matter for our long-term client, the University of Hong Kong,” the US law firm said. “Our legal advice is not intended as commentary on current or historical events.”

Strong waves near Heng Fa Chuen when Typhoon Kompasu hits Hong Kong on October 13, 2021. Photo: Stand News.

It did not directly address questions as to whether the Alliance was expected to remove the statue during two back-to-back typhoons in recent days.

Previously the firm has commented on political events – namely the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests in the US.

Legal advice

HKU demanded the removal of the Pillar of Shame from its campus in a letter to the Alliance last week, and said that if the Alliance failed to comply with the university’s order by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, “the Sculpture will be deemed abandoned.”

The university has also yet to budge on the Wednesday deadline, saying the statue’s removal was due to a “risk assessment.” it is despite a T8 storm signal being issued on Saturday and Tuesday. The Observatory said that the No.8 Northeast Gale warning will stay in place until at least 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

When asked if HKU would extend the deadline in light of the weather, a HKU spokesperson did not directly respond but told HKFP that they “are still seeking legal advice and working with related parties to handle the matter in a legal and reasonable manner.”

In a press statement issued on Tuesday, Galschiøt said he has retained a lawyer who has written to Mayer Brown.

He told HKFP last week that HKU had not contacted him.

“I hope that my ownership of the sculpture will be respected and that I will be able to transport the sculpture out of Hong Kong under orderly conditions and without it having suffered from any damage,” he said.

Jens Galschiøt. Photo: Youtube screenshot.

The Danish sculptor said he feared the statue would be destroyed : “If The Pillar Of Shame is crushed now I would urge everyone who goes out to Hong Kong University to collect as many pieces of the Pillar of Shame as possible.”

“These pieces may be used to make some symbolic manifestation that ‘Empires pass away – but art persists.'”

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

HKFP has reached out to the head of HKU Zhang Xiang for comment.

He told state-run Chinese news wire Xinhua on Tuesday that the university would make greater contributions to China.

Race to preserve statue

In light of the statue’s possible removal on Wednesday, netizens have started a campaign to digitally preserve the statue.

A call for pictures of the Pillar of Shame began in Twitter as a user tried to create a three dimensional scan of the artwork.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.