January 28 2022
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Tiananmen Square

Hong Kong University to remove 'Pillar of Shame' Tiananmen Square sculpture

Story by Eric Cheung and Hannah Ritchie

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Published on October 9, 2021 3:52 AM
The sculpture "serves as a warning and a reminder to people of a shameful event which must never reoccur," according to the description on Galschiøt's website. Galschiøt gave the sculpture to Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, both of whom were involved in the Tiananmen Square protests and have served as leaders of the Alliance.
The University of Hong Kong will remove the famous "Pillar of Shame" sculpture memorializing victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from its campus, a letter written by its legal team said Friday. The letter came from Mayer Brown LLP -- a London-based international law firm acting on behalf of the university -- and stated the statue had to be removed "before 5 pm on 13 October 2021," or it would be deemed "abandoned" and dealt with in "such a manner" that the university sees fit.

It was addressed to leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a pro-democracy organization established during the Tiananmen Square protests, which was given the sculpture on permanent loan in 1997.

After several of its senior members were arrested under Hong Kong's national security law, the Alliance announced a decision to disband last month and is now in the liquidation process.

The sculpture, which stands atop a podium in the Haking Wong Building of the university, is part of a series of works by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt created in 1997 to pay tribute to the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which the Chinese military crushed protests led by college students in Beijing with deadly force...

Pillar of Shame

Pillar of Shame is a series of sculptures by Danish artist Jens Galschiot. Each sculpture is an 8-metre tall statue of bronze, copper or concrete. The sculpture was inaugurated at the NGO Forum of the FAO summit in Rome in 1996. Since then three other pillars have been erected, in Hong Kong, Mexico, and Brazil. A fourth one in Berlin was planned for completion in 2002, but the plan has not come to fruition due to various issues.

Symbolism According to Galschiot, the sculptures remind people of a shameful event which must never recur. The torn and twisted bodies of the sculpture symbolize the degradation, devaluation and lack of respect for the individual. The black colour symbolizes grief and loss and the sculpture, which represents the victims, expresses the pain and the despair of the event. It can be used by both sides in complicated conflict situations, where it can be difficult to point out the guilty party.

Pillar of Shame in Hong Kong

The Pillar of Shame in Hong Kong is a concrete sculpture, first erected in Victoria Park in 1997 to mark the eighth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The statue depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies to symbolize those who died in the government crackdown. On the base of the statue, the history and pictures of the massacre are carved in and engraved into the base, in both English and Chinese, are the words 'The Tiananmen Massacre', 'June 4th 1989' and 'The old cannot kill the young forever.'

The Pillar was first exhibited at the Candlelight Vigil in commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests on 3 June 1997. Following the vigil on the night of 4 June 1997, local university students fought for a place to permanently home the statue. After scuffles with the police and controversy with the university leadership, at 3 a.m. students succeeded in moving the 2-tonne statue onto the podium of the Haking Wong Building at the University of Hong Kong, however the pieces were not assembled due to concerns that the floor was not strong enough. The Pillar was re-erected at the same place on 16 June 1997.

During the following months, the Pillar was exhibited at the following universities:
Chinese University of Hong Kong from 28 September 1997
Lingnan College from 2 November 1997
Hong Kong Baptist University from 29 November 1997
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology from 23 January 1998
Hong Kong Polytechnic University from 1 March 1998
City University of Hong Kong from 29 March 1998.

On 31 May 1998, the ninth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, the sculpture was returned to Victoria Park where a candlelit vigil was held. On the morning before the vigil, a self-professed artist splashed two buckets of red paint onto the Pillar, claiming that 'the blood of people is also my blood.'

On 24 and 25 September 1998, The Hong Kong University Students' Union held a general polling on a motion to home the Pillar of Shame at the University of Hong Kong on a long-term basis. The students' motion was carried, when 1,629 out of 2,190 voted to support, and the Pillar was moved onto the Haking Wong Podium again on 3 December 1998. It was again exhibited at the 10th anniversary candlelit vigil of the Massacre in 1999 at Victoria Park. Without the University authorities' endorsement, the Pillar was moved back to the Haking Wong podium after the anniversary, where has remained on display at; a silent tribute is held by HKUSU and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China in May every year.

On 30 April 2008, the Pillar of Shame was painted orange as part of the project The Color Orange, to raise awareness about human rights in China. As the sculptor Galschiot was denied access to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China painted the Pillar without his participation.

In October 2021 the University of Hong Kong formally requested that the statue be removed, although they did not cite any specific reason for the request.

Other Pillars of Shame

Ostiense Air Terminal, Rome, Italy, 1996, during the FAO Summit, depicting the deaths caused worldwide by hunger due to the uneven distribution of the world's resources. Acteal, Chiapas, Mexico in 1999, to mark the site of the December 1997 massacre of 45 members of the civil society group Las Abejas in Acteal. Brasilia, Brazil in 2000 in homage to the victims of the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre which occurred in 1996. This was moved to Belém, the capital of Pará, the federal state where the massacre occurred.

A fourth Pillar of Shame was planned in Berlin, Germany, in homage to the victims of the Nazi regime. Due to various problems, the artist had to cancel the project. A pile of over 16,000 shoes, each pair representing a victim of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre is placed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Sunday 11 July 2010. The shoes were collected to make The Pillar of Shame by German activist Phillip Ruch's monument to Srebrenica.