The University of Hong Kong (UHK), the oldest higher education institution in the territory, removed the memorial statue of the victims of the Tiananmen massacre from its campus. The work, which has been on display since 1997, was dismantled and removed on Wednesday night.

It is an eight-meter-tall sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, entitled "Pillar of Shame," installed on the university campus in the same year that Hong Kong's sovereignty was returned to China.

The Chinese government has done everything to erase the memory of the 1989 massacre.

An unspecified number of pro-democracy protesters were murdered by government forces in Beijing's main square. Since 1990, the anniversary of the killings has been marked in Hong Kong on June 4, but this year's vigil led to the activists involved being thrown in prison, including prominent pro-democracy militants like tycoon businessman Jimmy Lai, the owner of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

The UHK memorial was the last public vestige in Hong Kong of a date Beijing has taken to erase from history. "Its creation in 1997 was a touchstone for freedom in Hong Kong; its destruction in 2021 would be a tombstone for freedom in Hong Kong," Samuel Chu, president of the pro-democracy NGO Campaign for Hong Kong, told The Guardian.

Every year, on the anniversary of the massacre, students, faculty, and pro-democracy activists have maintained the tradition of cleaning and restoring the sculpture as a way of honoring the massacre victims.

The author demands the return of sculpture

The "Pillar of Shame" represented 50 human faces in anguish, and parts of tortured bodies, in an invocation of the victims of the 1989 massacre.

On Thursday morning, in the place where the statue stood, there was a strong police presence to prevent demonstrations of displeasure at the disappearance of the memorial. The media was also kept at bay. Despite this, images of the empty place where the artwork used to be shared on social media.

In October, the UHK leadership announced that it would remove the sculpture due to the growing crackdown on freedom of expression in the territory following the entry into force of the new National Security Law imposed by the authorities in Beijing.

The decision drew protests and repudiation from pro-democracy activists.

According to the university, the decision was taken as a result of legal advice, which stated that the sculpture could represent a violation of city law.

The university guarantees that it will keep the statue, but the work's author has already demanded that the piece be returned to him.