Pillar of shame, symbol of freedom: Tiananmen to Hong Kong to Berlin
The “Pillar of Shame” in Hong Kong, a memorial to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, was a symbol of freedom and democracy. Beijing has taken it down, but a replica is being built in Berlin. Activist Samuel Chu explains why that means so much to him.
On Dec. 22, 2021, shortly before midnight, masked workers removed the original “Pillar of Shame” statue from the campus of the University of Hong Kong, where it had stood for more than 24 years. The sculpture was dismantled into three pieces and wrapped in white sheets that were reminiscent of the shrouds used to wrap dead bodies.
The pillar has a very personal meaning for me. Its arrival in Hong Kong in 1997 marked the start of a friendship between the artist Jens Galschiøt and my father, the minister Chu Yiu-ming, a founding member of the Hong Kong Alliance.
The Alliance was founded to support the protest movement in Tiananmen Square in Beijing (Tiananmen meaning the Gate of Heavenly Peace). After the protests were brutally suppressed, the Alliance became the most important voice working to ensure that the victims were not forgotten, and for 30 years it organized annual candlelight vigils on June 4 in Hong Kong.
When the pillar was removed from Hong Kong in 2021, I traveled to Jens’s workshop in Odense, Denmark to start work on our new plan. We wanted to ensure that the pillar, as a memorial to the murdered of Tiananmen Square, as well as to those who kept these forbidden memories alive in Hong Kong, did not disappear. To understand how it came to this, you need to understand the history and the idea behind the pillar in Hong Kong.
The pillar is a powerful memorial to the bloody massacre on Tiananmen Square. For Hongkongers it was the conscience of a nation that suffered from state-imposed amnesia. On the mainland, any mention of Tiananmen, even baking a cake in the shape of a tank or using the number 8964 (code for the date), is forbidden and punishable by imprisonment. The pillar reminded us of the shameful events of June 4 and the Chinese Communist Party’s inhumane treatment of its people. Never again.
But the pillar also played another, equally important and subversive role. It was the canary in the coalmine – an early warning sign that would set off alarm bells if the freedoms that Hongkongers enjoyed began to be threatened or undermined.
Despite the Chinese government’s guarantees in the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 – namely that after Hong Kong was transferred to Chinese control in 1997, it would retain its freedoms and autonomy – Tiananmen showed both us and the wider world that the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party could not be trusted. [...]
— Read the full Die Welt article by Samuel Chu, translated into English by Worldcrunch.
What do you remember from the news this week?
1. Who has Russia accused of encouraging cross-border "terrorist" attacks?
2. Clashes erupted in Kosovo between NATO troops and what national minority group?
3. Which Latin American leader was welcomed back to Brazil by President Lula after a four-year ban?
4. What made Venice’s Grand Canal turn bright green? A chemical leak / An art installation / A climate protest / Wastewater testing
[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]
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• King Charles painting to be gifted to Dubai's ruling family: The British Embassy in the United Arab Emirates has commissioned a painting called King Charles III Coronation as a gift to Dubai’s ruling Al Maktoum family. The three-meter-square canvas, by British artist Sacha Jafri, celebrates King Charles's reign, the two royal families’ historic ties and the bond between the UK and the UAE.
• Chilean court takes Darth Vader to trial: Darth Vader was sentenced to 30 years in prison by the Valparaiso Court of Appeal in Chile. The iconic Star Wars villain was part of a mock trial organized on Heritage Day, whose function is to educate citizens by demonstrating how institutions function.
• Medieval manuscript paints minstrels as borderline stand-up comedians: The Heege Manuscript, a newly discovered document at the National Library of Scotland gives a better glimpse into the role of minstrels in medieval society. Written circa 1480, the manuscript “pokes fun at everyone, high and low” and contains humor “still very characteristic of British standup comedy.”
• Scorsese plans Jesus film after meeting with Pope: During a post-Cannes tour of Italy, iconic film director Martin Scorsese and his wife Helen Morris met with Pope Francis. The three then attended a conference on “The Global Aesthetics of the Catholic Imagination” at the Vatican, where Scorsese announced his intention to make a movie about Jesus.
• Artist plans museum of 100 walls: For his latest art work titled Wall House, Dubai artist Vikram Divecha plans to rescue and exhibit walls from across the world. Selected by local researchers and communities, the walls will come from buildings facing demolition to create a “multicultural archive” that would act as “a timeline of contemporary civilisations.”
Tunisia's increasing closeness with Russia has strained its relations with the West, which once saw Tunisia as a beacon of democracy. President Kais Saïed's growing estrangement from Western partners has provided an opportunity for Russia to forge stronger ties, expanding its influence through cultural outreach, tourism, diplomacy, and a media offensive. Driss Rejichi, journalist for Tunisian webzine Inkyfada believes that while Tunisia seeks alternative partners, China also remains an option as Russia has yet to completely win over the North African nation.
Read the full story: A Key New Ally For Russia That Makes The West Cringe: Tunisia
French daily Les Echos investigates why the U.S.’s life expectancy dropped by a staggering two years between 2019 and 2021. This is the world's steepest decline, and attributed mostly to more young people dying. Journalist Hortense Goulard attributed this drop to a range of issues that afflict the U.S. more than other Western countries, including guns and opioids.
Read the full story: A Foreign Eye On America's Stunning Drop In Life Expectancy
Poland's governing party has sparked widespread outrage for using the Auschwitz memorial site in a political ad. The right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) used images of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in a video that sought to undermine an opposition march against a new PiS law that has been widely criticized. In the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Bartosz T Wielinski explained this alarming manipulation of a tragic historical site for political gain.
Read the full story: Exploiting Auschwitz — How Poland's Ruling Party Reached A New Low
A German brewery has developed a powdered beer, where the consumer must just add water. The first sample of the beverage is alcohol-free and contains no carbon dioxide, meaning it has no bubbles. The owner, Fritsche, is planning on developing a more “beer-like” version of it. This version of beer is more sustainable, easier to transport and faster to make than traditional brewing.
A black bear in Avon, Connecticut took advantage of an open garage door to sneak inside a bakery and eat 60 cupcakes. The employees eventually managed to scare the bear off, who ran back into the woods apparently in search of a giant glass of milk.
• The U.S. will be busy next week with two Republican White House bids on schedule: Former Vice President Mike Pence will launch his 2024 presidential nomination in Iowa, while in New Hampshire former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is also set to announce his bid. Both candidates are hoping to be the chief Republican rival of former President Donald Trump, who is still far ahead in the polls.
• Africa’s Russia-Ukraine peace mission has been announced for next week, as six heads of state plan to travel to Kyiv, Ukraine and then Sochi, Russia. The representatives from South Africa, Egypt, Congo, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia want to help end the conflict, in part because of the war’s economic consequences on the African continent.
• British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is scheduled for his first official visit to Washington. On Wednesday and Thursday, he will be in talks with U.S. President Joe Biden in an effort to strengthen the two countries' economic ties an discuss how to sustain military support for Ukraine.
• Mexico City is expected to launch an app to process asylum seekers in an attempt to speed up the registration process, amid record levels of requests. Immigrant advocacy groups have criticized a similar U.S. app for accessibility problems as well as issues with its facial recognition tech.
News quiz answers:
1. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of a “terrorist act”, stating that the country was responsible for Ukrainian drones attacks in Moscow. The White House said on Tuesday that it did not support attacks inside Russia.
2. This week, clashes erupted in North Kosovo between police, NATO troops and ethnic Serb protesters. Ethnic Serb minority boycotted the local elections in April, and are now demanding the removal of Kosovo special police forces, and rejecting Albanian mayors as their true representatives.
3. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva welcomed Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro during a visit ahead of a summit of Latin American leaders in Brasilia. Brasil had cut all ties with Maduro’s government during former President Bolsonaro’s term from 2019 to 2022.
4. Last Sunday, Venice’s Grand Canal turned bright green, because of fluorescein, a non-toxic substance used for testing wastewater networks. This color change was reminiscent of Nicolás García Uriburu’s 1968 climate protest, during which the Argentine artist had dyed these same waters with a fluorescent green paint to raise ecological awareness.
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Photo: Euronews screenshot