Hong Kong’s City University has ordered the removal of the Goddess of Democracy statue from campus, as it becomes the fourth academic institution in the city to crack down on monuments commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.
In a Friday email to the union, school authorities said that the “temporary display of the item” had “expired” on March 31 this year, and that the student group must move it the same day.
The union told HKFP on Sunday night that it has not shifted the statue, which is still outside the Run Run Shaw Library. A spokesperson added that student representatives will meet with the university next week to discuss the matter.
“We already warn[ed] the university not to remove the statue without the union’s permission,” a spokesperson wrote.
HKFP has reached out to the university for comment.
The Goddess of Democracy statue was gifted to the union in 2012 by the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. The pro-democracy group, which disbanded in September under pressure from the authorities, held annual Tiananmen Massacre vigils in the city until last year when police banned the gathering on grounds of Covid-19.
The statue stands next to a message board known as the Democracy Wall. The board was barricaded by university authorities last year, the union told HKFP, and has been empty since then.
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.
It’s not the first time that the university’s Goddess of Democracy statue has captured the headlines. In 2019, a month into the protests, a man knocked over the sculpture and tore political posters off the Democracy Wall.
Local media said the man was a mainland Chinese graduate of the university. Photos showed the statue toppled on the floor, with parts of it broken off.
The man was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. He pleaded guilty in court and was ordered to pay HK$15,000 in compensation, according to a post on the student union’s Facebook page last July.
‘Attempt to erase history’
City University’s removal order is part of a days-long campus crackdown – happening around Christmas as students and staff are away – targeting artworks that pay tribute to the 1989 massacre in Beijing.
In the early hours of Thursday, the University of Hong Kong dismantled the eight-metre tall Pillar of Shame sculpture after first demanding its removal in October. University authorities cited safety issues and referenced the Crimes Ordinance “under the Hong Kong colonial government.”
The move sparked international condemnation, with Amnesty International describing the removal as “another attack on freedom of expression in Hong Kong, and a shameful attempt to erase history.” The government, meanwhile, refused to comment but told HKFP on Friday that “rights and freedoms are not absolute.”
The next day, Chinese University removed its Goddess of Democracy Statue with no prior warning. Meanwhile, in Lingnan University, authorities took down a relief sculpture portraying scenes of the bloody massacre – including the iconic “Tank Man’ image where an unnamed individual stood in front of a line of tanks.
“The student union expresses deep regret for the university’s unilateral decision to remove the monument, with no communication with the students,” Eric Tong, a student leader at Lingnan University, told HKFP on Friday.
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.
Up till last year, when police banned the annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil citing Covid-19, Hong Kong was one of the few places on Chinese soil where the incident could be openly commemorated. All mention of the crackdown in censored in the mainland.
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