But around midnight on Thursday, yellow masonry barriers were erected around the statue and cracks and demolition were heard as the statue was removed under cover of darkness.
Images taken during the removal process show workers wrapping the statue in a protective film and lifting it off campus on a crane in two distinct parts. The University of Hong Kong said the statue would be stored.
Two children look at the “Pillar of Shame” statue on the campus of the University of Hong Kong on October 15, 2021 in Hong Kong. credit: Louise Delmott/Getty Images Asiapac/Getty Images
An eyewitness said Thursday morning the site of the statue is now empty and students were seen crying on campus after it was removed. CNN agreed not to reveal the name of this witness for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
This fear of reprisal is common among those who speak out against the authorities in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed a national security law on the city in 2020, punishing crimes such as vandalism and secession with provisions. Up to life in prison.
The University of Hong Kong’s board said in a statement that the removal was “based on external legal advice and risk assessment in the interest of the university”.
The statue, which is housed in the university’s Haking Wong Building, was part of a series of works by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt created in 1997 – the year Hong Kong was returned to China after more than 150 years of British rule. The carving includes an inscription that reads, “The old cannot kill the young forever,” and was built to serve as “a warning and reminder to people of a disgraceful event that should never be repeated,” according to the description on Galchiot’s website.
Security guards stand in front of barricades erected around the 26-foot “pillar of shame.” credit: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
For three decades, Hong Kong was the only place on Chinese-controlled territory where an annual mass vigil was held to celebrate the events in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
The crackdown remains one of the most closely watched topics in mainland China, with discussions about it being deleted from the media. Chinese authorities have not released an official death toll, but estimates range from several hundreds to thousands.
After the 1997 handover, the continuation of vigils and similar memorials were seen as a critical test of Hong Kong’s continued autonomy and democratic freedoms, as promised in its de facto constitution.
A security guard stands in front of a shipping container as security personnel guard the “column of shame” at the University of Hong Kong, where the statue has been removed. credit: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
After news of the sculpture being dismantled, artist Galchiot wrote on his Twitter account, “I am absolutely shocked that the University of Hong Kong is currently destroying the pillar of shame. It is completely illogical and self-immolation of private property in Hong Kong.”
A close-up of the “Pillar of Shame”. credit: Louise Delmott/Getty Images Asiapac/Getty Images
“We encourage everyone to go to the University of Hong Kong and document everything that happens to the sculpture,” he added in a statement. We did everything we could to tell the University of Hong Kong that we would very much like to capture the statue and bring it to Denmark.”
“No party has obtained any approval from the university to display the statue on the campus, and the university has the right to take appropriate measures to deal with it at any time,” the University of Hong Kong Council said in its statement.
She added that the university was “deeply concerned about potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue. The latest legal advice given to the university warned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the university based on the Crimes Ordinance issued under the Crimes Act.” Hong Kong’s colonial government.”
Workers remove part of the “Pillar of Shame” statue in a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23. credit: Anthony Kwan / Getty Images
After the vote, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has endorsed her administration and praised her for moving the city “from chaos to order,” according to a government statement from the meeting.
Describing the election – in which the turnout was just 30.2% – as a “success”, Xi said the city “has made solid progress in promoting democratic development that fits the reality of Hong Kong”.
“The democratic right of Hong Kong compatriots has emerged,” Xi said.
A number of Hong Kong activists who fled abroad have described the election – in which the government first screened potential candidates – as “sham”, a criticism echoed by many rights groups and international observers.
Top photo: Workers remove part of a ‘column of shame’ in a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021.