OPINION: Removing statues on campus is eerily similar to China's actions in Hong Kong

Whether on or off campus, the woke mob applies its purity and litmus tests to these historical figures with no regard for how values and knowledge evolve over time.

When students, faculty, and university administrations pull down statues on campus in an effort to censor history, they are engaging in the same authoritarian politics that characterize China’s control over Hong Kong. 

Within 48 hours, Hong Kong University (HKU), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and Lingan University witnessed the removal of artwork commemorating the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. 

At HKU, “the Pillar of Shame” was an apt name for the monument that memorialized the atrocity as an example of Chinese government oppression that the communist regime is now trying to whitewash. 

Whether the universities in the quasi-autonomous city wanted to remove the statues, the appearance of their complicity is central to government censorship efforts. 

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CUHK “never authorised the display of the statue on its campus, and no organisation has claimed responsibility for its maintenance and management,” the university said in a statement about the “Goddess of Democracy,” according to the South China Morning Post

In America, statements that rationalize statue or artwork removal do not sound that different. 

In 2020, student leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Missouri system attempted to remove statues of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. 

“The [Missouri] students’ demonstration represented a microcosm of a larger movement advocating the toppling of statues honoring American heroes,” Campus Reform reported at the time. 

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one undergraduate student told Campus Reform

“This resolution [to remove Lincoln] is the result of a generation of students who have not learned even the most basic history of our country.”

The resolution to remove Lincoln contains the wording “[i]n order to create an inclusive and safe environment for all students,” which echoes Lingnan University’s justification, which includes the phrase “in the best interest of the University.” 

In the same vein that the resolution accused Abraham Lincoln of representing White supremacy while minimalizing his role in freeing slavery, Lingnan University apparently wanted its community to forget about college student protests against the Chinese military.

Though students at both George Washington University and the University of Washington advocated last year to remove structures depicting George Washington at their schools, America is not China.

Fortunately, hope is not lost. 

Many universities actively resist the woke mob. But make no mistake that campus leftists would remove statues in the middle of the night without debate if they could get away with those acts. 

Overnight revisions to history, such as those in Hong Kong, are what they want. 

Whether it’s a statue celebrating liberty, women’s rightsAmerican heroism, or the end of slavery, leftists invent controversy by simplifying American history to fit their one-dimensional narratives. 

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The woke mob is not interested in nuance or complexity. Whether on or off campus, the mob applies its purity and litmus tests to these historical figures with no regard for how values and knowledge evolve over time. 

The motivations to remove campus artwork and statues transcend national differences. The trend is disheartening but also alarming. 

Professors need to encourage students to come from a place of critical thinking and understanding. 

Students need to appreciate the artists’ intent at the time they created the statues. What did the statues’ creators and patrons want to communicate to future generations? 

Those messages can communicate positive and negative aspects about the statue’s subject. 

Lincoln’s presidency represents the ever-perfecting nature of our nation. History’s blemishes do not warrant removal unless the goal is to rewrite history and create a fictional account to promote certain political ideologies.

America cannot continue to grow as a society if it is focused on erasing its past.