University Of Hong Kong Wants To Remove A Sculpture Commemorating Tiananmen; To Preserve It, People Have Crowdsourced A Digital 3D Replica

from the pillar-of-shame dept

As Techdirt has chronicled, the political situation in Hong Kong becomes worse by the day, as the big panda in Beijing embraces a region whose particular freedoms were supposed to be guaranteed for another 25 years at least. One manifestation of the increasing authoritarianism in Hong Kong is growing censorship. The latest battle is over a sculpture commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during China’s 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, and on display in the University of Hong Kong. South China Morning Post reports:

The eight-metre-high Pillar of Shame by Jens Galschiøt was first erected at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Pok Fu Lam in 1997, and according to the sculptor was on permanent loan to the group that organised the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the pro-democracy activists killed by the military in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

But after the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China decided to disband in August amid a national security investigation, HKU management informed the group it had until Wednesday 5pm [on 13 October] to remove the 2 tonne artwork or else it would be deemed abandoned. The university said the move was based on its assessment of legal risks in light of the alliance’s dissolution.

The formal letter ordering the sculpture to be removed warned that:

If you fail to remove the Sculpture before 5:00 pm on 13 October 2021, the Sculpture will be deemed abandoned and the University will not consider any future request from you in respect of the Sculpture, and the University will deal with the Sculpture in such time and in such manner as it thinks fit without further notice.

That seems a clear threat to remove or even destroy the Pillar of Shame directly. The sculptor, who says the work still belongs to him, points out that moving it is hardly easy, and has threatened legal action if it is damaged:

“It will take a long time to move the sculpture,” he warned. “It is an extremely valuable piece of art, which after 24 years probably is a bit frail. Therefore there is a great possibility that the work of art will suffer irreparable damage if handled by any others than experts in handling art.

“If, contrary to expectations, damage to the sculpture should occur, the university risks incurring a claim of compensation for that damage.”

Galschiøt has also asked Danish politicians to help him get the sculpture out of Hong Kong, and has formally requested the University of Hong Kong to review its decision. These latest developments seem to have caused HKU to pause its plans: according to the South China Morning Post, it has said that it will take no action for the moment, and that it needed more time to consider its next move. However, some have decided to act now to ensure that the Pillar of Shame continues to exist in some form, whatever happens. Sophie Mak, whose Twitter bio describes her as “monitoring human rights abuses in Hong Kong and elsewhere”: tweeted:

Dear Hong Kong friends, help us preserve the Pillar of Shame by sending over any pictures you’ve taken of it to PillarOfShamePics@protonmail.com! We need pictures taken from as many different angles as possible to make our digital 3D replica model.

That was on October 12. The next day, a tweet from Nathan Ruser wrote of the digital 3D replica: “Thanks to some really helpful submissions this is starting to look a heck of a lot better!” The replica is already good enough to ensure that the Chinese government would be annoyed if copies started appearing outside their embassies around the world. It offers a useful example of how others can respond when the authorities want to make inconvenient objects disappear from public view.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Comments on “University Of Hong Kong Wants To Remove A Sculpture Commemorating Tiananmen; To Preserve It, People Have Crowdsourced A Digital 3D Replica”

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18 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Re: Wrong bear

This is a lie and the issue with the whole winnie the pooh thing that gets left out is that it was a meme portraying xi jinping as winnie and obama as tigger, in a racist manner. China does have the same rules on speech as the west does and restricts what they consider hate speech.

People who love to have asinine views on what is or isn’t democracy like you upstream, love to distort the little details about a situation just because you do not like China.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Wrong bear

"This is a lie and the issue with the whole winnie the pooh thing that gets left out is that it was a meme portraying xi jinping as winnie and obama as tigger, in a racist manner."

Know how we can spot the Chinese PR department?

Answer: They’ll try to make Xi dada’s thin skin look like outrage over racism in a political parody cartoon.

"China does have the same rules on speech as the west does and restricts what they consider hate speech."

You’re not doing your job very well. Outright and obvious lying went out of style when the USSR found it didn’t work. Last I checked there are few countries in the west where I’d have to fear five years worth of jail for criticizing the government or the ruling party ideology.

"People who love to have asinine views on what is or isn’t democracy…"

Like the dictionary definition or the ones taught in political science, you mean?

"…love to distort the little details…"

Like outright government censorship with actual jail and human rights violations as the result of, say, saying the government is wrong where many can hear it?

Not sure if you’re a troll or actually receiving a few yuan for poisoning the well but either way you’re not doing too well.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Well, it doesn't exactly come as a surprise.

China’s obsession with "face" is as old as the country itself. No administration – ever – has suffered depictions or public commemoration of an uprising against said administration to stand. It’s only when dynasties change that old revolutionary movements are dragged into the light to serve as further justification as to why the old order had to go.

I don’t expect to see any public reminder of past failings of the current chinese government surviving for very long in Hong Kong.

"…the political situation in Hong Kong becomes worse by the day, as the big panda in Beijing embraces a region whose particular freedoms were supposed to be guaranteed for another 25 years at least."

No one believed that though. The "Two systems, one country" provisions in the sino-british treaty weren’t credible to any within the political establishment who knew China. Not even at the time of signing. Hong Kong’s "Freedom" was always completely conditional on them voluntarily choosing to always abide by whatever Beijing dictated. Like Macau, for instance, where painstakingly following the mainland party line has meant Beijing graciously not cracking down on the place.

The naívety in people believing the deal reminded of an old fable;

A scorpion wants to cross a river but cannot swim, so it asks a frog to carry it across. The frog hesitates, afraid that the scorpion might sting it, but the scorpion promises not to, pointing out that they would both drown if the scorpion killed the frog in the middle of the river. The frog considers this argument sensible and agrees to transport the scorpion. The frog lets the scorpion climb on its back and begins to swim. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replies: "I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature."

China isn’t an unknown. Wasn’t back then, isn’t now. How they act and react has been as predictable as the tide, for thousands of years. The UK knew damn well they were selling HK down the river when they handed HK back to China.
Mind you, they also knew damn well China would retrieve that bit of land one way or the other and didn’t feel a land war with China was in their best interests. I can’t really blame them for that.

What i can blame them for is not being completely clear to the HK citizenry that treaties notwithstanding they should be aware that China could and likely would align HK with Beijing as soon as possible so the time to get out was right then and there. There’s at least one old british attache who knew damn well this would happen and tried to get people to leave. Too few listened.

HK got a grace period of twenty years to run for the hills. They chose not to. And in so doing condemned their children to mainland rule. In a way I feel this is the absolutely worst part of this mess. Those children lived a complete lie for their entire life courtesy of their negligent parents and now face the consequence of their own parents bullshitting them utterly.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Well, it doesn't exactly come as a surprise.

China’s obsession with "face" is as old as the country itself. No administration – ever – has suffered depictions or public commemoration of an uprising against said administration to stand. It’s only when dynasties change that old revolutionary movements are dragged into the light to serve as further justification as to why the old order had to go.

I don’t expect to see any public reminder of past failings of the current chinese government surviving for very long in Hong Kong.

"…the political situation in Hong Kong becomes worse by the day, as the big panda in Beijing embraces a region whose particular freedoms were supposed to be guaranteed for another 25 years at least."

No one believed that though. The "Two systems, one country" provisions in the sino-british treaty weren’t credible to any within the political establishment who knew China. Not even at the time of signing. Hong Kong’s "Freedom" was always completely conditional on them voluntarily choosing to always abide by whatever Beijing dictated. Like Macau, for instance, where painstakingly following the mainland party line has meant Beijing graciously not cracking down on the place.

The naívety in people believing the deal reminded of an old fable;

A scorpion wants to cross a river but cannot swim, so it asks a frog to carry it across. The frog hesitates, afraid that the scorpion might sting it, but the scorpion promises not to, pointing out that they would both drown if the scorpion killed the frog in the middle of the river. The frog considers this argument sensible and agrees to transport the scorpion. The frog lets the scorpion climb on its back and begins to swim. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replies: "I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature."

China isn’t an unknown. Wasn’t back then, isn’t now. How they act and react has been as predictable as the tide, for thousands of years. The UK knew damn well they were selling HK down the river when they handed HK back to China.
Mind you, they also knew damn well China would retrieve that bit of land one way or the other and didn’t feel a land war with China was in their best interests. I can’t really blame them for that.

What i can blame them for is not being completely clear to the HK citizenry that treaties notwithstanding they should be aware that China could and likely would align HK with Beijing as soon as possible so the time to get out was right then and there. There’s at least one old british attache who knew damn well this would happen and tried to get people to leave. Too few listened.

HK got a grace period of twenty years to run for the hills. They chose not to. And in so doing condemned their children to mainland rule. In a way I feel this is the absolutely worst part of this mess. Those children lived a complete lie for their entire life courtesy of their negligent parents and now face the consequence of their own parents bullshitting them utterly.

Anonymoussays:

bullshit! HK doesn’t want to remove it, those in control there, under orders of mainland China want to remove it!
just think about what’s going on with China at the moment and why. it’s simply because the UK allowed China to do what it has done instead of following the terms and conditions agreed when HK as ‘handed back’ to China! had the UK stood up to China over this issue and stood by the people of HK, maybe things wouldn’t be how they are. with Taiwan on the cards as being next in China’s sights, you have to wonder when it’s gonna stop? things look decidedly bleak for everywhere now and the thought is yet another global conflict on the cards is very real!

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re:

"it’s simply because the UK allowed China to do what it has done instead of following the terms and conditions agreed when HK as ‘handed back’ to China!"

It’s not the 18th century any more. The UK can’t sail a gunboat up the yang ze river and threaten to shell Beijing. They had a choice. Gracefully relinquish HK back to China or have themselves a land war with China they were guaranteed to lose.

They chose to back away. I really can’t blame them. Can’t, honestly, blame China for taking HK back either, given that the ‘lease’ was extorted by a gang of state-sponsored opium traders.

The only thing the UK can be blamed for in this case is that they chose not to be up front to the HK citizenry. They knew damn well no matter what China promised HK was always going to become aligned to the mainland, no matter the cost.

"…had the UK stood up to China over this issue and stood by the people of HK, maybe things wouldn’t be how they are."

China would still own HK now, but after a very brief land war where the UK would have to project force in a way it hasn’t attempted since the heyday of the british empire, against an army with modern weapons and a massive numerical superiority.
I’m not sure HK would be better off if the "handover" had been in the form of a conquering army.

"with Taiwan on the cards as being next in China’s sights, you have to wonder when it’s gonna stop?"

No we don’t. No one who knows chinese history at all wonders where it will stop. Once China has recovered all territories it considered China for several centuries? That’s where it stops. As it always has. It’s why they built a wall rather than just take mongolia when they could. It’s why Korea and Vietnam aren’t chinese provinces. Chinese expansionism can and always has been curbed. But what they´once took and expanded their culture across, they keep.

Taiwan is definitely next on China’s list. But in their case less out of territorial concerns and more because Taiwan still insists they are the only "real" china. Which every time it gets mentioned makes the PRC angrier than if you’d launched a cruise missile into the streets of Beijing.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re:

"it’s simply because the UK allowed China to do what it has done instead of following the terms and conditions agreed when HK as ‘handed back’ to China!"

It’s not the 18th century any more. The UK can’t sail a gunboat up the yang ze river and threaten to shell Beijing. They had a choice. Gracefully relinquish HK back to China or have themselves a land war with China they were guaranteed to lose.

They chose to back away. I really can’t blame them. Can’t, honestly, blame China for taking HK back either, given that the ‘lease’ was extorted by a gang of state-sponsored opium traders.

The only thing the UK can be blamed for in this case is that they chose not to be up front to the HK citizenry. They knew damn well no matter what China promised HK was always going to become aligned to the mainland, no matter the cost.

"…had the UK stood up to China over this issue and stood by the people of HK, maybe things wouldn’t be how they are."

China would still own HK now, but after a very brief land war where the UK would have to project force in a way it hasn’t attempted since the heyday of the british empire, against an army with modern weapons and a massive numerical superiority.
I’m not sure HK would be better off if the "handover" had been in the form of a conquering army.

"with Taiwan on the cards as being next in China’s sights, you have to wonder when it’s gonna stop?"

No we don’t. No one who knows chinese history at all wonders where it will stop. Once China has recovered all territories it considered China for several centuries? That’s where it stops. As it always has. It’s why they built a wall rather than just take mongolia when they could. It’s why Korea and Vietnam aren’t chinese provinces. Chinese expansionism can and always has been curbed. But what they´once took and expanded their culture across, they keep.

Taiwan is definitely next on China’s list. But in their case less out of territorial concerns and more because Taiwan still insists they are the only "real" china. Which every time it gets mentioned makes the PRC angrier than if you’d launched a cruise missile into the streets of Beijing.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Wrong bear

This is a lie and the issue with the whole winnie the pooh thing that gets left out is that it was a meme portraying xi jinping as winnie and obama as tigger, in a racist manner. China does have the same rules on speech as the west does and restricts what they consider hate speech.

People who love to have asinine views on what is or isn’t democracy like you upstream, love to distort the little details about a situation just because you do not like China.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Wrong bear

"This is a lie and the issue with the whole winnie the pooh thing that gets left out is that it was a meme portraying xi jinping as winnie and obama as tigger, in a racist manner."

Know how we can spot the Chinese PR department?

Answer: They’ll try to make Xi dada’s thin skin look like outrage over racism in a political parody cartoon.

"China does have the same rules on speech as the west does and restricts what they consider hate speech."

You’re not doing your job very well. Outright and obvious lying went out of style when the USSR found it didn’t work. Last I checked there are few countries in the west where I’d have to fear five years worth of jail for criticizing the government or the ruling party ideology.

"People who love to have asinine views on what is or isn’t democracy…"

Like the dictionary definition or the ones taught in political science, you mean?

"…love to distort the little details…"

Like outright government censorship with actual jail and human rights violations as the result of, say, saying the government is wrong where many can hear it?

Not sure if you’re a troll or actually receiving a few yuan for poisoning the well but either way you’re not doing too well.

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