Workers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) removed the Tiananmen Massacre monument late on Wednesday night, months after the university said the statue must go.

UPDATE: HKU cites ‘safety’ and ‘colonial gov’t’ law after tearing down Tiananmen statue

Pillar of Shame
Photo: Supplied.

Views of the area were obscured with curtains and plastic barriers at around 11pm. Construction noise could be heard as the area was cordoned off without notice and surrounded by security guards.

Pillar of Shame
Pillar of Shame. Photo: HKU Undergrad.

Alvin Lum of CitizenNews reported that the university’s ruling body had agreed to that the statue would be demolished amid pressure from Beijing’s local offices.

AFP’s Xinqu Su tweeted that windows facing the area had been boarded up and a cargo container had been lifted in nearby with a crane.

pillar of shame 2021 Tiananmen Massacre HKU June 4
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Live-streams showed workers pushing carts of rubble.

Students are currently on break for the festive period.

Jens Galschiøt’s Pillar of Shame monument has stood on campus for over two decades, though – in October – university authorities demanded its removal amid a crackdown on those commemorating the 1989 massacre.

In a statement on Thursday, he said: “I’m totally shocked that Hong Kong University is currently destroying the Pillar of Shame… It is my private property and the sculpture belongs to me personally… I will claim compensation for any damage to the sculpture.”

“[I]t is a disgrace and an abuse and shows that Hong Kong has become a brutal place without laws and regulations such as protecting the population, the arts and private property… And it’s even more grotesque that they use the Western holiday, Christmas, to carry out the destruction of the artwork,” he added.

Outgoing chief of the university’s ruling body Arthur Li said last week that it was “not quite clear who owns the Pillar of Shame… We’re still investigating.”

However, Galschiøt has told HKFP that he has repeatedly asserted his ownership to HKU via his legal team but was ignored.

See also: Explainer: How Hong Kong sought to erase the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre

“I believe, it is important to preserve the history of any country, and I am therefore sorry that my monument, which is a memorial to the events at The Tiananmen Square 1989 in China, is no longer welcome,” he wrote in an open letter passed to the university and his Hong Kong legal team last month.

Pillar of Shame
Pillar of Shame. Photo: HKU Undergrad.

HKU has also ignored questions about Galschiøt’s claims when contacted by HKFP.

The eight-metre tall statue of bodies twisting towards the sky was the site of annual ceremonies to commemorate the victims of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on protesters in the summer of 1989.

Head of the journalism school at HKU Keith Richburg tweeted in the early hours of Thursday: “Don’t do this!!”

Pillar of Shame

In early October, HKU demanded that the now-defunct group which organised yearly candlelight vigils commemorating the massacre, remove the statue within five days. The demand – made during two T8-level typhoons – caused a row which saw the university’s legal representative, Mayer Brown, withdraw from the case amid international pressure.

See also: The Pillar of Shame: The history of Hong Kong’s harrowing tribute to the Tiananmen massacre victims

Galschiøt previously told HKFP that the two-ton statue would be difficult to move and may be fragile: “[T]here is a great possibility that the work of art will suffer irreparable damage if handled by any others than experts in handling art.” He added that HKU “risks incurring a claim of compensation.”

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The Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, 1989 ended 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.

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HKFP has contacted Galschiøt and HKU for comment.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.