June 4 vigil in Hong Kong
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An alliance member cleans the Pillar of Shame on the HKU campus. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Hong Kong activists clean Pillar of Shame in first Tiananmen commemoration event since national security law imposed

  • Ritual of washing sculpture located on University of Hong Kong campus is the first in annual series of events to mark June 4
  • Small group of activists also observed minute’s silence to mourn those killed in 1989 crackdown

Opposition activists on Sunday held their annual ritual of washing the Pillar of Shame, a sculpture at the University of Hong Kong that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.

It marked the start of a series of annual events as Hong Kong remembers June 4 for the first time since the central government imposed a national security law on the city last year.

Sunday’s event was organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a group mainland Chinese academics have labelled subversive because of its calls for an end to “one-party rule”.

Alliance members address reporters on the HKU campus. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
As alliance head Lee Cheuk-yan was jailed for 14 months in April over his role in two illegal protests during anti-government demonstrations in 2019, vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, who received a one-year suspended sentence in the same case, took the lead.

Several core alliance members shouted slogans, calling for the “end of one-party dictatorship” and “reverse the June 4 verdict” that the Tiananmen protests were counter-revolutionary.

The small group of activists also observed a minute’s silence to mourn those killed in the June 4 crackdown.


Statue cleaning Hong Kong’s first Tiananmen crackdown memorial event under national security law

Statue cleaning Hong Kong’s first Tiananmen crackdown memorial event under national security law

Ho, a former Democratic Party chairman, said: “The washing event has significant symbolic meaning. It can reflect whether Hong Kong is still alive or already dead.”

The event came two days after HKU moved to distance itself from its student union, reasserting control over the body’s facilities over accusations the “increasingly politicised” group used the campus to spread “propaganda”.

The university’s move raised questions over the future of the sculpture, which was erected by the union in the late 1990s.

But alliance vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung said: “We don’t think it will be the last time we can wash the pillar at the university.”

Organiser of Tiananmen vigils cuts back team to ‘reduce political risk’

The pillar, created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot in 1996, was moved to the campus by students in June 1997, a month before Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule. In 1998, the student union held a referendum which gave a mandate for the pillar to stand in the campus indefinitely. It was unknown if the university management would order the pillar to be removed.

The alliance also organises the annual June 4 vigil at Victoria Park and has already applied to police for a letter of no objection this year.

But questions arose last week on whether the vigil had effectively already been banned as the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the park, said it had suspended processing applications for the leasing of its facilities for non-designated uses, citing Covid-19 concerns.


Tiananmen crackdown museum reopens in new Hong Kong location ahead of June 4 anniversary

Tiananmen crackdown museum reopens in new Hong Kong location ahead of June 4 anniversary

Chow, a barrister, declined to disclose its alternative plan should the vigil be banned, only saying: “We trust that Hong Kong people will not forget June 4. The alliance will still commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre no matter what.”


The candlelight vigil in Victoria Park has been the only large-scale public commemoration of the 1989 crackdown held on Chinese soil. Police banned it last year, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of people defied the ban and flooded the park.

Since then, 26 activists, including Lee, Ho and Chow, were charged with taking part in an illegal assembly for their participation in the banned vigil or inciting others to do so.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung