A pro-democracy message board at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has been reduced to a blank wall after school authorities stripped off protest posters and stickers from the once-colourful display.

A worker carries out maintenance work on the now-empty “Democracy Wall” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on December 24, 2021. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

During a visit to the campus on Friday morning, two workers were carrying out maintenance work at the at the student “Democracy Wall.”

One of them, who was replacing supporting beams, told HKFP that the board was empty by the time he arrived earlier this week on Monday or Tuesday.

Stickers leftover on Chinese University’s “Democracy Wall” after the authorities’ purge. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

Besides the workers, there was nobody in the vicinity of the Democracy Wall. About half a dozen stickers – dating back to the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests – were still stuck on the message boards, remnants from the student movement.

The Democracy Wall was barricaded in October soon after the university’s student union announced it would dissolve. The organisation, which had represented CUHK’s student body for half a century, disbanded citing pressure from the authorities.

Earlier this year, the university severed ties with the union, citing the group’s allegedly false statements and possible breaches of the national security law.

chinese university independence posters democracy wall
The “Democracy Wall” at Chinese University. Photo: inmediahk.net via CC2.0.

In December, school authorities said that it was taking back management of the wall, which had earlier been under the purview of the union.

The university was the site of some of the most violent clashes between police and protesters during the 2019 protests and unrest. Five former students students were sentenced to close to five years in prison after they were convicted of rioting at the institution’s campus in 2019.

HKFP has reached out to CUHK for comment.

Goddess of Democracy sculpture

The stripping of the pro-democracy message board comes during the same week that CUHK dismantled the Goddess of Democracy sculpture, which commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. In a statement, the university said that it ” never authorised the display of the statue.”

The monument was moved to the university in 2010 after a vigil marking the 20th anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown.

Created by artist Chen Weiming, the sculpture – removed in the early hours of Friday – was an imitation of the original monument erected by protesters in Beijing at the end of May in 1989.

CUHK Goddess of Democracy
The CUHK Goddess of Democracy. Photo: HKFP.

Students and passersby stopped to take pictures of the now-empty site the morning after it was torn down.

On campus, a first-year journalism student said the statue was particularly iconic because many school events, like orientation camp activities, would be held there.

“It was also a common meeting point. “We would say ‘wait at the Goddess of Democracy statue,’ not ‘wait at the MTR station,” the student, who gave her initial as “J,” said.

CUHK after the Goddess
CUHK after the Goddess of Democracy was removed on Friday. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Located just by the MTR station and a main bus stop, the statue is one of the first landmarks that those coming to the university see.

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

Campus crackdowns

The events at CUHK are part of a wider clampdown on political expression around Hong Kong’s university campuses this week.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) removed the eight-metre tall Pillar of Shame sculpture in the early hours of Thursday morning, citing safety issues and referencing the Crimes Ordinance “under the Hong Kong colonial government.”

Workers packed the sculpture away in two parts using a crane.

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

In a statement on Thursday, the statue’s artist, Jens 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.”

Separately, a relief sculpture that pays tribute to the Tiananmen Massacre was dismantled and removed from Lingnan University in the early hours of Friday. Online streaming footage appeared to showed staffers blinding onlookers with strobe lights as they tried to film the process.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.