University of Hong Kong wants Tiananmen ‘Pillar of Shame’ gone

Push to remove statue ‘can be seen as final stage of mainlandising’ Hong Kong’s campuses

October 8, 2021
The University of Hong Kong
Source: iStock

In the latest move viewed as a clampdown on criticism of Beijing, the University of Hong Kong has requested that the Pillar of Shame – a statue in memory of the Tiananmen Square victims – be removed from its campus.  

The request, which was reported by local media, comes amid already high tensions in Hong Kong.

Over the summer, students and academics in the semi-autonomous city clashed with university leaders over academic freedom, with Hong Kong police arresting several members of a pro-democracy student group in September, Reuters reported.

Now, HKU has reportedly directed that its eight-metre monument, a totem-like heap of human forms commemorating the protesters killed by the Chinese military during its 1989 crackdown, be removed from the campus where it has stood for 24 years.

According to one HKU academic, who asked to remain anonymous, the decision “can be seen as a final stage of mainlandising Hong Kong’s university campuses”.

He noted that HKU had already removed all anti-extradition posters and stickers posted around its campus following student protests. The academic mentioned a similar incident in which another protest statue was removed from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“If the anti-extradition movement in 2019 marked the loose control over university campuses and undergraduate student unions, the year 2021 is witnessing a reversal of the political landscape in 2019,” he said, noting that the move would “conform” with the National Security Law.

Under the law, those found guilty of loosely defined crimes including “secession”, “subversion”, “terrorism” or “collusion with foreign forces” can be jailed, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The controversial move at HKU closely follows the disbanding of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s student union, which formed in 1971.

“For fifty years CUSU existed as an independent student organisation whose representatives were elected through a democratic process. It is a matter of profound regret that CUSU is now history,” the union’s representatives wrote in a statement.

The union is the second in Hong Kong to crumble in recent months. On 13 July, the University of Hong Kong severed ties with its own student union, accusing it of “damaging the reputation and interests of the entire HKU community”.

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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