By UCA News
By Benedict Rogers*
(UCA News) — Dictatorships are always afraid of two things: the truth and the people. And they will do everything possible to prevent the people from knowing, or remembering, the truth.
That is true of every tyranny, but none more so than Xi Jinping’s brutal Chinese Communist Party regime in Beijing. It covered up the causes of Covid-19, silenced whistleblowers and angrily rejects calls for an independent international investigation. It lies about the genocide of the Uyghurs. It denies forced organ harvesting. It fears the people of Hong Kong and their desire for democracy. And for the past 32 years, the official line in China has been that “nothing happened” in Tiananmen Square and throughout the country on June 4, 1989.
As Louisa Lim describes so well in her book The People’s Republic of Amnesia, few people in China born after 1989 are even aware of the massacre, such is the regime’s propaganda and control of information. And as the BBC’s correspondent John Sudworth revealed when he showed images of Tank Man to Chinese people on the streets of Beijing, even those of a generation old enough to remember claim — presumably out of fear — that they don’t.
On December 22, the Chinese regime attempted to inflict that forced forgetfulness on Hong Kong when, under the cover of darkness, Hong Kong University followed Beijing’s orders and removed the Pillar of Shame monument commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. With great secrecy, workers hung curtains and plastic barriers around the area and boarded up windows at 11pm to obscure the view of the site while security guards refused access to reporters and cordoned off roads. A cargo container was brought in by crane. Construction noise could be heard, workers were seen pushing carts of rubble, and by 1am local time, the statue had vanished.
The Pillar of Shame, which had stood on Hong Kong University’s campus for 24 years, was the work of Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt. He responded to the news with a statement saying: “I’m totally shocked that Hong Kong University is currently destroying the Pillar of Shame … It is my private property and the sculpture belongs to me personally … I will claim compensation for any damage to the sculpture. It is a disgrace and an abuse and shows that Hong Kong has become a brutal place without laws and regulations such as protecting the population, the arts and private property … And it’s even more grotesque that they use the Western holiday, Christmas, to carry out the destruction of the artwork.”
The move is the latest nail in the coffin of Hong Kong’s freedoms — a coffin which has had many nails hammered into it over recent years. Up until 2020, Hong Kong, due to its promised freedoms and autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle, was the only city under China’s sovereignty where the Tiananmen Square massacre could be commemorated.
Every year on June 4, thousands of Hong Kongers gathered in the city’s Victoria Park to remember the 1989 massacre. Now, many of the organisers of the vigil are in jail, and the commemoration is banned.
The destruction of the Pillar of Shame shows the regime’s intention to ban not only vigils but any visible symbol, with the hope of erasing from the history books and future generations’ memories any knowledge of the tragedy that was unleashed on the people of China in 1989. It represents the regime’s campaign to turn Hong Kong into just another Communist Party-controlled city in China and incorporate it into the People’s Republic of Amnesia.
That’s why the rest of the world has a responsibility to ensure that the 1989 massacre is never forgotten, and that those who died or were jailed simply for protesting for democracy are always honored and remembered. In memory of them, and in solidarity with Hong Kong, there are two specific things we could do.
The first is to build Pillars of Shame outside as many Chinese embassies as possible, at least throughout the free world. From London to Tokyo, Washington to Seoul, Ottawa to Jakarta, Berlin to Wellington, Paris to Canberra, Delhi to Dili and beyond, Pillars of Shame should be erected outside China’s embassy or, if that is logistically impossible, on another significant site, such as in front of the legislature or government buildings.
And the second — in solidarity with Hong Kong University students — would be for university campuses around the world to build a Pillar of Shame. Students from Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, St. Andrew’s, Edinburgh, Bristol, Exeter, the London School of Economics, Imperial, University College and King’s College, London, and other major British universities, along with Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Georgetown, Columbia and campuses across the United States, as well as Toronto, McGill, McMaster, British Columbia, Melbourne, Monash, Queensland, Sydney, the University of New South Wales, Australian National University, the Sorbonne, Heidelberg, Bonn, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Yonsei, Seoul National University, Chulalongkorn, Mahidol, Chiang Mai and beyond should consider building replica Pillars of Shame in a global coordinated campaign of remembrance.
There may be other things to be done too. Cities could follow the example of London’s Tower Hamlets Council, which has passed a resolution to rename streets around the site of the new Chinese embassy as Tiananmen Square, Uyghur Court, Tibet Hill and Hong Kong Road. Lithuania’s capital Vilnius already has a Tibet Square and an attempt was made in Washington, DC, seven years ago to rename the street in which China’s embassy stands as Liu Xiaobo Plaza after the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who subsequently died in custody in 2017.
Others will have further creative ideas. But the key point is this: now that Hong Kong, for now, has been silenced by Beijing, those of us who live in the free world must step up, to stand with Hong Kong, to speak out when those in Hong Kong no longer can, and to ensure that the Chinese regime’s attempts to erase history never succeed.
* Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, and his faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News