Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Goddess of Democracy

I. A Brief History of the Present

On the 4th of June, the night after my arrival at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a second, more visible visitor arrived on campus. Earlier that night, a variety of democracy activists and other dissident groups gathered in Victoria Park for the 21st consecutive year to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This year featured a new guest: an approximately 15' tall, plastic iteration of the Goddess of Democracy statue, recalling the foam and paper-mache version created by students during the Tiananmen protests.

Following the remembrance ceremony at Victoria Park, a group of activists, including CUHK students, delivered the statue to the entrance of campus. Logistically, this might be compared to having a rally at Coney Island and then transporting its centerpiece to Columbia's campus. This act was perpetrated in spite of the disapproval of university authorities (who recanted once it became a fait accompli).

Now, a full month later, the statue still stands in front of the University Train Station, surrounded by little more than some traffic cones, crime-scene tape, and (occasionally replaced) wilted flowers. The plastic edges of the mural accompanying the statue are beginning to fray. The stickers reading "Liberty, Democracy, Justice" on the Goddess' book are held on by nothing but scotch tape, and sometimes flap in the wind. Often, students and other vistors pose with the statue for pictures; most merely rush by without a glace. No one took notice when this foreigner casually stepped over the crime-scene barrier to knock on the statue, discovering its hollow and plastic nature. An ambiguous gift indeed! This unasked for goddess and its current liminal status have now become a site of contention between groups with differing interests and beliefs. This contention is exacerbated by its fragile materiality, and the question of its final disposition.

Why is the statue here, of all places? Why now? What is its context? What does it mean to people here, and how is it being used in a continuous game of power over Hong Kong's political future? Over the next few weeks, I'll share some thoughts about how this particular object connects with wider currents moving through the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Next time, I'll talk about the statue as both object and sign, and might even muse about iconoclasm a bit. Till then, I hope those of you in "Mer'ka" enjoy some barbeque, beer, and fireworks tonight.

1 comment:

Brian Boyd said...

Great post John, really looking forward to hearing your comments over the next few weeks.