Removal of Tiananmen Square Memorial Statue
On April 15th, 1989, Hu Yaobang, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary and strong public governmental figure who advocated for democratic reform, passed away, serving as the catalyst for public protests demanding political and economic reform resembling western ideology. From April 15th, 1989 to June 4th of 1989, university students began to speak on the growing sentiment within the country as, despite China benefiting from a prosperous economy, it was accompanied by high inflation and political corruption. This prompted many in Beijing to protest for more individual rights and freedoms, but this was ultimately met with stern warnings from the government and China categorizing the behavior as “bourgeois liberalism.”
The protests produced a conflicted government in which the minority wanted to compromise with the protestors while the majority feared for the possibility of revolt or anarchy; this stimulated them to enact martial law within Beijing, and army troops were dispatched. However, they were interrupted by a large group of civilian protestors who intended to prevent the military troops from advancing to the college students. Ultimately, this resulted in a violent confrontation between Chinese citizens and the military on June 4th, 1989 producing an estimated death toll from a couple hundred to possibly thousands. By June 5th, all protestors were removed from Tiananmen Square, however, one man, now famously recognized as Tank Man, stood in front of a line of tanks both continuously blocked the pathway of the leading tank and directly engaged in conversation with the soldiers in the tank. What happened to Tank Man is still disputed although some claim that he was executed while others state that he fled the country.
In order to commemorate the brave citizens that lost their lives and to have a physical representation of the atrocities that occurred on June 4th, 1989 meaning China could not whitewash the incident, Danish artist Jens Galschiøt created a 26 ft. tall structure depicting twisted faces and torsos stacked on top of one another. The statue was placed in the University of Hong Kong to honor the college students who passed away, however, in October of 2020, the University had ordered the removal of the statue. “The decision of the aged statue was based on legal advice and risk assessment for the best of the university…” and “The Chinese authorities have previously cited safety or public health concerns as reasons for preventing events such as vigils taking place on anniversaries of the Tiananmen Square Massacre” (BBC News, 2021).
Whether you agree that these are the actual reasons for why the University of Hong Kong decided to remove the statue as opposed to a possible pressured reasoning by the government, the removal of the statue has continued China’s attempt of maintaining a clean slate. The statue was one of the last public figures which not only served as a reminder of the atrocities that the Chinese government has conducted, but also served as a public display of accountability by its citizens. The removal of the iconic statue displays the different political and oppressive powers that are shifting in China and with the new strict national security laws being implemented in Beijing, there is minimal tolerance for separatist or foreign ideology. Also with a credible educational institution removing the statue as opposed to the government forcibly removing it, a more justifiable innuendo accompanies the removal of the historical marker.
Although the removal of the Tiananmen statue was a huge blow towards preventing China from erasing their violent responses to protestors of their regime, new and vibrant political activists are taking to the stage. One being Badiucao, a self-exiled citizen from China who is utilizing his artistic ability to gather attention and protest against the brutality of the Chinese government. Despite the Chinese government continuing to remove their violent oppressive behaviors further and further from history, activists and protestors continue to advocate against their actions and prevent future generations from forgetting their country’s oppressive history.