Students of the Central Academy Fine Arts
Goddess of Democracy
Tiananmen Square (temporary)
The Goddess of Democracy: a statue erected in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, on May 30, 1989, by students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, who modelled it after the Statue of Liberty.
The Goddess of Democracy, also known as the Goddess of Democracy and Freedom, the Spirit of Democracy, and theGoddess of Liberty (自由女神; zìyóu nǚshén), was a 10-meter-tall (33 ft) statue created during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The statue was constructed in only four days out of foam and papier-mâché over a metal armature. The constructors decided to make the statue as large as possible to try to dissuade the government from dismantling it: the government would either have to destroy the statue—an action which would potentially fuel further criticism of its policies—or leave it standing. Nevertheless, the statue was destroyed by soldiers clearing the square of protesters, but has been copied a number of times.
Standing on a plinth on the square, the figure faced Mao’s imposing portrait over Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Even before the statue was finished, it sent a jolt of excitement through the fractured and shrinking protest movement, and thousands gathered to watch it rise in the dark. “Many of them waited until light along with us, and when it was completed, they shouted from below, ‘Ah, goddess of liberty,’” recounts Wang Kai, an artist who was there, in the new book “Blood-Red Crossroads,” which was published in Hong Kong by Fountainhead Books. Indeed, it took a while for the name, the Goddess of Democracy, to catch on. It was also the Spirit of Democracy, as well as the Goddess of Liberty, reflecting its echoes of the Statue of Liberty. Some called it the Goddess of Liberty and Democracy. “Only gradually did the label shift decisively to Goddess of Democracy in order to counter criticisms of overt Americanization and to encourage resonance with traditional folk goddesses,” Craig Calhoun, an American sociologist who was in Beijing at the time, wrote in his study of the protest movement, “Neither Gods Nor Emperors.”
“The statue gave the protest a focal point and drew a continuous flow of ordinary people and other visitors into the Square,” wrote Mr. Calhoun. Protest organizers on Tiananmen Square recruited students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts and other Beijing schools to construct the statue, and gave them 8,000 renminbi for materials. The pieces assembled from foam, papier-mâché, plaster and metal framing were created in a workshop of the academy over three days, using as a model a smaller clay sculpture of a man, clasping a pole with his raised arms. “The statue was made so that once assembled, it could not be taken apart again but would have to be destroyed all at once,” Cao Xinyuan, who was then a graduate student at the academy, wrote in “Children of the Dragon,” a book about the 1989 protests. “The students cut off the lower part of the pole and added a flame at the top to turn it into a torch,” wrote Mr. Cao. “They repositioned the body into a more upright position; they changed the man’s face to that of a woman, added breasts and finally draped the whole figure in a robe.” The pieces were taken to the square on six three-wheeled cycles with flat beds – ubiquitous means of carting loads in Beijing in those days. The statue was formally unveiled at midday on May 30, when a young woman read out a declaration. “The spirit of democracy is what all people under dictatorial repression yearn for,” she said. “Spirit of democracy, you are the hope that the Chinese nation can be saved. Spirit of democracy, you are the soul of the 1989 Chinese democracy movement.” By late that day, hundreds of thousands of people had gathered at the square to see the statue. But the surge of protesters’ defiance that accompanied the statue was worrisome for some student leaders and intellectuals advising them. They had been searching for ways to end the occupation of the square, extract concessions from the government and avoid the risk of a bloody showdown.
Instead, the statue, along with divisions in the movement and an influx of committed protesters from beyond Beijing, undercut efforts to secure agreement on leaving the square. The statue also appeared to reinforce Communist Party leaders’ conviction that the protests had to be crushed with force. Party newspapers and the Beijing government office for administering the square reviled the Goddess of Democracy as desecration. “Tiananmen Square is a major venue for our country when holding political assemblies and welcoming guests, and it is an extremely solemn site,” the office said in a statement reported by state news media. “For some people to place this figure of a ‘goddess’ on Tiananmen Square is utterly irreverent.” When soldiers extinguished the protests and seized Tiananmen Square early on June 4, the Goddess of Democracy became a target. One official account said an armored personnel carrier first pushed over the statue, and an official history of the 38th Group Army, which led the push into the square, said its forces “destroyed the ‘Goddess of Liberty’ statue that had been a spiritual pillar for the rioters.” In a memoir published in 1989, a People’s Liberation Army company commander, Zhang Dongxu, recalled the moment when the soldiers attacked the fallen statue with metal bars. “We used iron bars to smash it several times until our hands hurt,” he wrote. “I looked closely and saw that the statue’s head had already been shattered beyond recognition.”
Goddess of Democracy recreation by Thomas Marsh at the Vancouver campus of theUniversity of British Columbia.