Report: China Pressures San Francisco to Remove Tiananmen Massacre Memorial

San Francisco - Portsmouth Square - Goddess of Democracy
Wikipedia/Martin Haeusler

City Journal reported on Thursday that surrogates for the Chinese government are allegedly pressuring the city of San Francisco to remove the Tiananmen Square memorial in Portsmouth Square Park, which is due to undergo renovations in the near future.

The allegations were made by Thomas Marsh, the sculptor who created the memorial, a replica of the famous “Goddess of Democracy” statue created by the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, who the Chinese communist regime massacred in 1989.

The original Goddess of Democracy was 33 feet tall and made from foam and papier mache. It was knocked down by a tank when Chinese troops were sent into Tiananmen Square to smash the pro-democracy demonstrations.

Marsh’s homage is much smaller and made of bronze. A plaque on its pedestal reads, in English and Chinese: “Goddess of Democracy/Dedicated to those who strive for and cherish/human rights and democracy./A gift to the City of San Francisco/from the San Francisco Goddess of Democracy Project 1989-1994.”

The statue stands in Portsmouth Square, known as the “Heart of Chinatown.” The park was built on the site where the American flag was first raised in San Francisco in 1846 and it includes numerous historical monuments in addition to the Goddess of Democracy. 

The San Francisco statue is one of several replicas of the Goddess of Democracy around the world and, like many of them, it is the scene of vigils for the victims of Tiananmen Square on June 4 of every year.

The Associated Press

A statue of Goddess of Democracy is displayed at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, Sunday, June 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

City Journal quoted Marsh saying there is pressure from the Chinese government to remove his statue from the park when renovations approved last year are undertaken, just as the tyrants of Beijing tried to prevent San Francisco from displaying the statue in the first place:

In July 1989, despite near unanimous local support for erecting a re-creation of the demonstrators’ Goddess of Democracy statue, the effort suddenly faced internal obstacles within San Francisco city government. It was soon revealed that the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco had been trying to strong-arm the city government into dropping its plans to place the statue in such a prominent location.

The resulting public outcry against China ensured that the bronze statue would indeed rise in the park, and it was eventually dedicated there on June 4, 1994, the fifth anniversary of the massacre. Present at the unveiling were Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Frank Wong, founder of the Chinese Democracy Education Foundation, and seven of the “21 most wanted” student leaders from Tiananmen Square. The event united Americans and their tradition of defending democratic values with the Chinese people and their desire for freedom.

But the statue’s days in San Francisco may be numbered if Beijing gets its way. The sculptor, Thomas Marsh, claims that several weeks ago a source with knowledge of city government contacted him about the upcoming plan to renovate Portsmouth Square Park. According to the source, CCP surrogates are pushing for the Goddess of Democracy statue to be removed for the renovation project—and not returned after the renovations are complete.

The Associated Press

In this June 5, 1989, file photo, a Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Changan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square. An online snafu involving China’s most popular e-commerce livestreamer and a cake decorated to look like a tank, referencing the iconic Tank Man photo taken during the 1989 student-uprising, has raised questions among some Chinese over the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)

City Journal op-ed writers Jianli Yang, Fengsuo Zhou, and Fang Zheng noted the allegations passed along to Marsh have not been confirmed, but as they noted, the Chinese government has attempted to interfere with the statue in the past as part of its relentless campaign to erase the Tiananmen Square massacre from history. Mentioning the massacre is illegal in China.

This campaign against memory reached a chilling peak in Hong Kong during the coronavirus pandemic. Formerly semi-autonomous Hong Kong was long the scene of the largest annual Tiananmen vigils to be held by a Chinese population, and among the largest in the world. Tens of thousands of people filled the island’s Victoria Park each year with candles to remember the dead.

The Communist regime loathed these demonstrations and, in June 2020, the coronavirus unleashed in Wuhan, China, finally gave China the excuse it needed to cancel the Victoria Park vigil for the first time. The vigil was canceled again every year of the pandemic and then permanently banned under the tyrannical “national security law” China illegally imposed on Hong Kong to suppress the pro-democracy movement that flourished in 2019. 

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Crowds of Hong Kong residents defied these bans to hold smaller vigils in other parts of the city, under increasingly harsh threats from the police. Dissidents commemorate June 4 in much quieter ways in Hong Kong today. Pro-Beijing elements in Hong Kong’s government forced the organizers of the annual vigil to disband and shuttered the island’s Tiananmen Square museum in 2021. In May 2023, Beijing-controlled chief executive John Lee forced Hong Kong libraries to remove books about Tiananmen Square.

The City Journal op-ed strongly opposed removing the Goddess of Democracy statue in San Francisco, telling the city not to “let Beijing dictate how or where it memorializes the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.”

Noting that the American public is increasingly aware of the Chinese Communist Party’s use of economic power to “influence, penetrate, and undermine America’s democratic way of life,” the authors – who are all former student protesters and survivors of the Tiananmen Square atrocity – urged San Francisco to “let the statue stand.”

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