Hot Topics: Hong Kong universities remove monuments marking 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown

  • The University of Hong Kong has dismantled the Pillar of Shame sculpture, while Chinese University has taken down its Goddess of Democracy statue
  • Some schools cite legal risks, as critics call this a move to silence academia
Doris Wai |

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The Goddess of Democracy statue has been removed from the Chinese University campus where it had stood for about 10 years. Photo: Sam Tsang

Hot Topics takes an issue that’s being discussed in the news and allows you to compare and analyse different news articles and viewpoints on the subject. Our questions encourage you to examine the topic in-depth and can be used on your own, or with a friend.

Context: Tiananmen monuments removed from three Hong Kong university campuses

A day after the University of Hong Kong (HKU) dismantled a sculpture commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in a late-night operation, two more local institutions have followed suit.

On December 23, a sculpture at HKU commemorating the victims of the crackdown was dismantled and taken away, two months after campus chiefs ordered its removal.

The HKU Council said the decision to take down the eight-metre Pillar of Shame was made in light of “external legal advice and risk assessment”.

“Latest legal advice given to the university cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks ... based on [Section 10 of] the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government,” the statement said.

HKU removes Pillar of Shame sculpture in middle of night

The council added it was concerned about “potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue” and that no official approval had ever been granted for its display.

The statue, created by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, had stood on campus since June 1997. After HKU ordered its removal from campus in October, Galschiøt sought diplomatic help to relocate the memorial overseas. But he did not receive a reply from the Hong Kong government.

A day after the Pillar of Shame was dismantled, Chinese University (CUHK) removed a statue known as the Goddess of Democracy, while Lingnan University tore down a wall relief.

Danish artist Jens Galschiøt created the eight-metre Pillar of Shame to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. The statue had stood at the University of Hong Kong since 1997 until it was removed last month. Photo: EPA-EFE

Both artworks were meant to memorialise the bloody crackdown. They were created by sculptor Chen Weiming, a Chinese-born New Zealand citizen now living in the United States.

In a statement, CUHK said it had never approved a 2010 student union request to place the statue on campus.

It added that the two groups responsible for placing the statue on campus – the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and its own student union – had been disbanded.

In 1989, student protesters and civilians gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest against corruption and demand greater political freedom. On June 4 of that year, the Chinese military ordered soldiers to open fire on the protestors. Reports have suggested that hundreds were killed, possibly more.
Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • Why do people commemorate events with monuments? What other monuments do you know of in Hong Kong?

  • Identify ONE reason the Pillar of Shame and Goddess of Democracy were removed from their respective campuses.


Graphic: Adolfo Arranz

Question prompts:

  • What are the people in this illustration doing with their hands? What emotions do you think their eyes convey?

  • How might this illustration be relevant to the events described in Context?

News: Fourth Hong Kong university set to remove artwork marking Tiananmen Square crackdown

A fourth university in Hong Kong wants an artwork commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown removed, its student union has revealed, saying it has been asked by campus chiefs to take it away.

City University (CityU) student union said it had decided to relocate its Goddess of Democracy statue – which has stood on campus for nearly a decade – to prevent it from being damaged. The union also accused authorities of putting pressure on education institutions with an intent to silence academia.

On its Facebook page, CityU’s student union said the university had formally requested that the union take back its Goddess of Democracy statue.

“To prevent the statue from being damaged, we decided to relocate it some time later for preservation,” the union said on December 25. “The authorities have put pressure on education institutions in an attempt to silence academia and whitewash history.”

City University student union says it has decided to relocate its Goddess of Democracy statue at the request of school officials. Photo: David Wong

The union said it needed time to consider a new location and follow-up work, so it had asked the university to refrain from moving the statue without its consent.

This comes after three other local universities last month removed art pieces which mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Pro-Beijing heavyweight and University of Hong Kong (HKU) alumna Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, said the Pillar of Shame should have long been removed from HKU.

“I don’t care about the political reason. Students should live happy lives on campus, and I doubt they will be happy to see such a sculpture.”
Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • What “political reason” might Rita Fan be referring to in the last paragraph of News? Explain your answer using News and Context.

  • Regarding the removal of the Pillar of Shame from HKU, barrister Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok said: “Who actually owns the statue is not the main issue. It is a simple civil case, and the issue here is that the object is placed inside the university. So the university naturally has the right to handle it.” To what extent might CityU’s student union agree with this statement, and why?

Goddess of Democracy statue, Tiananmen Square memorial wall removed from Hong Kong campuses

Issue: Did a piece of Hong Kong history die with Pillar of Shame’s removal, or is it a ‘negative icon’ that has overstayed its welcome?

When the Pillar of Shame was pulled down, a piece of the city’s history died with it, observers said.

Chinese University (CUHK) political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the removal of the eight-metre pillar could be interpreted by the international community as the end of the “one country, two systems” governing policy under which the city is granted a high degree of autonomy.

“The Pillar of Shame can be regarded as the last remaining icon of June 4, as well as for one country, two systems,” he added.

A gift from Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt, the structure arrived in the city in 1997 and was erected at Victoria Park on the eighth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It was eventually brought to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) where it stood until it was removed last month.

The Pillar of Shame sculpture stood at the University of Hong Kong for more than 20 years until it was removed last month. Photo: Sam Tsang

Galschiøt told Reuters in an interview that the statue’s removal was “brutal” but any damage would be symbolic of recent changes in the city under mainland Chinese rule.

“Maybe it would be nice to have some damage on it. It sounds strange, but it is also a symbol. This is what they’re doing to ... Hong Kong,” Galschiøt said.

Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said HKU had the right to decide how to handle the pillar, which she called a “very negative political icon”.

“My understanding is that HKU will not break the statue. It will keep it in storage and return it to the Danish artist at some time in the future,” Ip said. “I hope all universities in Hong Kong can focus on academic affairs and not get too politicised.”

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Meanwhile US-based artist Chen Weiming, expressed “regret and anger” towards the removal of his artworks – the Goddess of Democracy statue at CUHK and the memorial wall relief at Lingnan University.

“[The universities] acted like a thief in the night ... They were afraid of exposure and of a backlash from students and alumni,” Chen told Agence France-Presse.

Chen said the works were only on loan to the schools and that he would take legal action if they were damaged.
Staff writer, Reuters and Agence France-Presse

Question prompt:

  • This article discusses two perspectives of the Pillar of Shame – that it is a monument representing “one country, two systems” and a “negative political icon”. Using Issue, News and Context, elaborate on ONE argument supporting and ONE argument opposing each perspective.

Hot Topics: Why new teachers are required to pass Basic Law test


  1. Section 10 of the Crimes Ordinance: the section of the criminal law targets acts with a seditious intention, including publications and displays of any seditious material. Sedition is punishable by two years in prison and a HK$5,000 fine for a first offence. In the Crimes Ordinance, seditious intentions include wanting to bring hatred against the Hong Kong government.

  2. Goddess of Democracy: a 10-metre statue created during the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. US-based artist Chen Weiming created a version of the statue which was displayed at Victoria Park in 2010 before later being transported to the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). It has since been removed. Another version is at City University, though the student union has been asked by campus chiefs to remove it.

  3. Pillar of Shame: an eight-metre sculpture created by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt. It is a memorial to the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. In 1998, it was erected at Victoria Park, before being displayed at different universities. In 1999, protesters and members of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) student union brought the statue to the school campus. HKU heads once threatened to remove the pillar, but left it untouched until removing the sculpture last month.

  4. wall relief: refers to a wall-mounted sculpture in which the parts are raised from a flat base. In Hong Kong, the now-removed wall relief at Lingnan University was created by Chen Weiming to memorialise the Tiananmen Square crackdown. In 2010, it was displayed at several local universities before settling at Lingnan University in 2011 with the permission of the school’s administration.

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