The University of Hong Kong has removed a Tiananmen Massacre monument in the early hours of Thursday morning whilst students were on break. In a statement, it cited safety issues, legal advice and referenced the Crimes Ordinance “under the Hong Kong colonial government.”

A section of the ‘Pillar of Shame’, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, covered in plastic lies next to a container at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Hong Kong on December 23, 2021. Photo: Yan Zhao/AFP.

Workers packed the two-ton harrowing tribute to the 1989 dead away in two parts using a crane.

A before-and-after shot of the scene. Photo: HKFP.

The eight-metre statue by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt was surrounded by security staff, curtains and barricades during the hours-long operation that began at around 10.30pm on Thursday and finished around 5:30am the next morning.

Photo: Undergrad.

Views of the operation were obscured and the area condoned off, months after the university said the statue must go.

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

Security guard stand in front of barriers erected around the eight-metre (26-feet) high “Pillar of Shame” by Jens Galschiot mourning those killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square at Hong Kong University in Hong Kong on December 23, 2021. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

“No party has ever obtained any approval from the University to display the statue on campus, and the University has the right to take appropriate actions to handle it at any time,” a statement from the HKU Council read on Thursday.

“The University is also very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue. Latest legal advice given to the University cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the University based on the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government,” the ruling body said, adding that the statue is now in storage.

A section of the ‘Pillar of Shame’, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, covered in plastic lies next to a container at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Hong Kong on December 23, 2021. Photo: Yan Zhao/AFP.

The Pillar of Shame has stood on campus for 24 years, though – in October – university authorities demanded its removal amid a crackdown on those commemorating the 1989 massacre.

Photo: Supplied.

The move comes 14 months after the institution also cited safety concerns in tearing down a protest-related “free speech” democracy wall.

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

A photo of HKU’s Lennon Wall taken on September 28, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

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.

‘Totally shocked’

In a statement on Thursday, Galschiøt 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.”

A section of the ‘Pillar of Shame’, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, covered in plastic lies next to a container at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Hong Kong on December 23, 2021. Photo: Yan Zhao/AFP.

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

However, the artist said HKU repeatedly ignored his efforts to make contact through his legal team: “[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.

HKFP confirmed that the Tiananmen Massacre tribute on the campus’s Swire Bridge was still present on Thursday morning.

Swire Bridge. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Since 1989, an inscription on the bridge reads: “Souls of martyrs shall forever linger despite the brutal massacre; Spark of democracy shall forever glow for the demise of evils.”

Photo: Undergrad.

Alvin Lum of CitizenNews reported that the university’s ruling body had agreed to that the Tiananmen statue would be demolished amid pressure from Beijing’s local offices. Headline Daily reported that it was moved to HKU’s Kadoorie Centre in Yuen Long.

HKU did not respond to HKFP’s questions.

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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.