A monument to victims of the Tiananmen Massacre was removed from the University of Hong Kong in the pre-dawn hours of December 23. "Pillar of Shame," a 26-foot-high work by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt, has been put into storage by the university, according to ABC News.

The sculpture depicting the slaughter of pro-democracy protesters had been visible on the campus for more than two decades, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) recalled. In October, the university administration had called for the sculpture to be removed, but it had not succeeded in finding the legal owner of the monument, HKFP said.

Arthur Li, the chair of the university's governing council, was quoted by the HKFP as saying: "It's not quite clear who owns the 'Pillar of Shame'... We're still investigating." On December 22, the council finally decided to remove the statue and put it into storage, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP). The paper noted that the decision had not been unanimous.

'My private property'

Galschiøt told The Guardian that he remained the owner of the sculpture. He told the paper that he had asked the university for permission to bring his artwork back to Denmark, "but I received no response." The SCMP quoted him saying his statue had been on permanent loan to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, one of many Hong Kong pro-democracy groups to disband this year.

'A symbol of the truth'

Wong Ching-hin, a student representative on the governing council, was quoted by SCMP as saying the decision to take down the monument had been regrettable. He went on to call the "Pillar of Shame" "a symbol of the truth."

The Guardian quoted a statement from the governing council as saying that the decision to remove the statue had been "based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university." The council indicated that the statue possibly violated Hong Kong's colonial-era Crimes Ordinance, the paper said.

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Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a Hong Kong legal expert, told SCMP it was unclear why the university administration was concerned with the sculpture violating that law now, after having let the statue stand on campus for so long.

'A potentially irreversible turning point'

Writing in the New York Times, two exiled Hong Kongers, Shui-yin Sharon Yam and Alex Chow, addressed the significance of the university's decision to remove the "Pillar of Shame." They said that the decision was part of a series of moves intended to wipe out the June 4, 1989 massacre from the public's memory.

They added that these measures "mark a potentially irreversible turning point" in the communist government of China's suppression of Hong Kong's freedom. By aligning itself so closely with the desires of mainland China, the leadership of higher education in Hong Kong was eliminating "its potential to cultivate future political leaders who would challenge China's rule," they said.