Hong Kong’s oldest university covered up one of the last public tributes to the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on Saturday, as Beijing continues to muzzle dissent in the financial hub.
Hong Kong was the only place in China where mass remembrance of Tiananmen was tolerated, but authorities drove such activities underground after imposing a sweeping national security law on the city. Last month, the University of Hong Kong removed a famous statue commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops around Tiananmen Square.
At least two other local universities removed artwork from public spaces marking the crackdown that same week.
On Saturday, a large slogan painted on a bridge on the HKU campus mourning the Tiananmen “martyrs” who escaped previous censorship was blocked with metal sheets.
An AFP reporter saw construction workers cover the calligraphy, which read: ‘The heroic spirit of martyrs shot in cold blood will live forever, the fire of democracy that defeats evil will never be extinguished’ .
Created by HKU students shortly after the crackdown, it had adorned the campus for more than three decades according to local media.
The calligraphy has spawned a ritual on campus, with student leaders repainting the words white each year to symbolize mourning.
HKU did not immediately respond to questions from AFP about whether the words will be permanently deleted.
But a spokesperson told reporters that the university “regularly carries out maintenance work at various locations and facilities, with the site above being one such project.”
Hong Kong’s universities, ranked among the best in Asia, have long been free from the political censorship that permeates mainland campuses.
But Beijing began to reshape Hong Kong in its own image following huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019.
The national security law has effectively criminalized dissent, including the Tiananmen commemoration, with authorities stressing the need for schools to foster “patriotism”.
An annual candlelight vigil to mark the June 4 crackdown has been banned for two years, with officials citing both security and pandemic fears.
Leaders of the now disbanded group organizing the vigil have been accused of subversion, and authorities have closed a Tiananmen Museum once run by the group.
After dismantling the Tiananmen “Pillar of Shame” statue last month, HKU said the decision was “based on external legal advice and risk assessment in the best interest of the University”.