As gunfire and death consumed the streets around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Liane Lee tried with all her might to contain a screaming and crying child. Holding a stone, he screamed that the army had killed his father and was determined to “fight until I die.”
It was June 4, 1989.
Lee, now vice president of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, was then a Hong Kong student in Beijing in what would be one of the most horrific events China had seen in years.
He was unable to hold the boy, who he estimates was about 13 years old, and begged him to stop fighting. Finally, he pushed her away and disappeared into the chaos of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“After 30 minutes or so, his body, covered in blood, was brought back to the first aid station near me,” Lee told the Star.
The events of the night the army stormed Tiananmen Square, one of China’s most famous landmarks and the place where Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China founded, remains one of the most eclipsed in modern China. .
Estimates of the death toll range from a few hundred to thousands of protesters.
But despite the presence of the international press when the massacre took place, the Communist Party of China has waged a war against his memory. He has flatly denied that it took place and its discussion is prohibited in China.
Now the effort to erase the event has come back to Hong Kong.
On Thursday morning, the “Pillar of Shame,” a Hong Kong University artwork commemorating the Chinese army’s bloody assault on students who had gathered in Beijing for weeks to demand government reforms in 1989, was shot down. It had been on campus for more than two decades.
Unconfirmed reports on Hong Kong social media on Thursday said that two more monuments, the “Goddess of Democracy” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a relief from the Tiananmen massacre at Lingnan University, had been removed from the overnight.
The eight meter high “Pillar” by Danish sculptor Jens Galschioet displays 50 beaten bodies in a pile as a symbol of those who lost their lives. The University of Hong Kong said the work has inherent “legal risks” and removed it early Thursday morning and put it in storage.
“No party has obtained approval from the university to display the statue on campus, and the university has the right to take appropriate action to handle it at any time,” said a statement from the university after the statue was removed.
The removal comes after the closure of a museum dedicated to the massacre and the prohibition of candlelight vigils to commemorate it for two years by the Hong Kong authorities.
Hong Kong was handed over to the People’s Republic of China in 1997 under the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which stipulated that the region was supposed to enjoy autonomy from Beijing until 2047.
But the CCP violated the treaty in 2019, sparking mass protests. Canada backed the treaty when it was first signed, but critics have criticized Ottawa for doing little to prevent it from being broken.
An estimated 300,000 Canadians live in Hong Kong.
For Lee and others who live in Canada and have connections to Hong Kong, the removal of the statue does not mean that the fight against the CCP is over. He called on the international community to speak out against the removal of the monument and Beijing’s actions in the city, warning that not speaking out simply allows it to be forgotten.
“If the national community leaves Hong Kong and betrays its fundamental values of freedom with profits from business with Beijing, with China, that will also be a pillar of shame for the world,” he said. “This monument has been removed, but Hong Kong as a city will be a monument in the hearts of all Hong Kong people in Hong Kong or in the world.”
In Vancouver, Davin Wong, director of youth engagement and policy initiatives at Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said he is concerned that the monument’s removal may herald future action by Canadian universities.
Wong said he wonders whether institutions in Canada would remove the art or interfere with speech that they are concerned about could anger the CCP, especially since Hong Kong’s National Security Law threatens anti-CCP activity taking place outside of China.
He said the statue of the “Goddess of Democracy” at the University of British Columbia, erected in 1991 in support of the democracy movement in China, is a particular concern as self-censorship spreads.
“HKU has removed its ‘Pillar of Shame’ today,” Wong said. “Will UBC do the same and kneel before the self-censorship and authoritarian regime of the National Security Law and the CCP and remove this important symbol as well?”
Overseas communities around the world face an increasing risk of self-censorship, Wong said, calling on the Canadian government to take steps to protect their rights in Canada.
He said Canadian authorities must begin to address foreign interference in Canadian diaspora communities and institutions.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Lee said she will not be silenced. He recalled another time when the Tiananmen Square massacre unfolded around him and the commitment he has made to honor it ever since.
The locals had picked up Lee and other Hong Kong students who were near the square and began trying to get them out of the area. Lee and his fellow students didn’t want to leave. A nearby doctor intervened.
“She took my hand, looked me in the eye and spoke to me. ‘My son, listen to me, you have to get in the ambulance,’ ”Lee recalled the woman saying. “‘You have to go back to Hong Kong to tell the world what happened.’
With files from The Associated Press