We must not forget Tiananmen Square

This week the authorities at the University of Hong Kong removed a statue known as the "Pillar of Shame" which commemorates the Tiananmen Square massacre. This appears to have been due to pressure from the government in Beijing.

Attempts by governments to rewrite and suppress history are nothing new - it has been suggested that it may go back as far as five thousand years. The Ancient Egyptians certainly attempted it three and a half thousand years ago - for example, Pharoah Tutenkhamun is far better known today than he was for thousands of years because his reign fell during the so-called "Armana period" and a few years after his death his successor but one, Horemheb, attempted to wipe all record of that entire period, which had lasted a generation, from history.

After murdering his brother and co-ruler Geta, the Roman emperor Caracalla made the very mention of his name punishable by death. There is even a latin name for the practice of trying to wipe someone from history - damnatio memoriae. In more modern times tyrannical regimes whether fascist or communist in nature have also attempted it - and this act of vandalism in Hong Kong is only the latest example.

By definition, if any government had ever succeeded in an act of damnatio memoriae, we would not know about it, but we do know about a fair number of unsuccessful attempts.

As others have pointed out, the attempt by the Communist regime in China to destroy the memory of the massacre at Tiananmen Square is an act of weakness, not of strength. Whether I live to see it or not, I am convinced that there will come a day when the peoples of both Hong Kong and China will be free - and any attempt by their present rulers to suppress the truth about their history will only make their own reputation as future generations look back on the present day as history look less and less impressive.

There is a story that, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, a gestapo officer barged his way into the Pablo Picasso's apartment, pointed to a picture of the artist's mural "Guernica" and demanded

"Did you do this?"

and that the artist replied,

"No, you did!"

The creators of the "Pillar of shame" could make a similar riposte to the Chinese Communist Party.


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