Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tank Man

On the night of June 3-4, 1989 the China People's Liberation Army moved to end the non-violent democracy protests that had for several weeks rocked several Chinese cities, most prominently at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  That night, hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians were killed and the demonstrations crushed.

On the morning of June 5, on Chang'an Avenue just outside Tiananmen, a street that THC and every other tourist to Beijing has been on, the confrontation that most Westerners remember took place creating the indelible image of the event.  A man carrying two shopping bags and whose identity remains unknown twenty five years later placed himself in the middle of the road and for several moments blocked a long parade of tanks.  That solitary man remains the symbol, not just of what happened at Tiananmen, but of every person who has had the courage to stand and risk their lives against oppression and that is why the image endures.
(From Wikipedia)
Twenty five years later he is known only as Tank Man.  A Google search on "Tank Man Tiananmen" gives 584,000 results and Wikipedia has a Tank Man article but his name is still a mystery.

Below is a wider shot (also from Wikipedia) showing the entire column of tanks (Tiananmen is in the upper left and center of the photo) and Tank Man is in the lower left.
In 2009, a street level photo of Tank Man was published.  Taken by an AP photographer, Terril Jones, who did not realize for several weeks what his photo contained, it shows two young men fleeing the approaching tanks.  Just to the right of the running man on the left is the small figure of Tank Man, already standing in the middle of the road.
The video at this link which THC strongly recommends viewing contains more information on the confrontation. The tanks try to maneuver around Tank Man but he moves to block them and then, amazingly, climbs onto the lead tank and speaks with one of the crew members.  The video ends with him being hustled off of the street by bystanders.  Even that last event is shrouded in mystery - some observers say it was the State Security Police that hustled him off, others that it was concerned bystanders, friends or other protesters trying to save his life.

The Chinese government maintains it does not know who he is or what happened to him.  Is he alive?  Dead?  Imprisoned?  The images and videos linked here are all blocked in China (for that matter, all Google based blogs like this one, are blocked) and knowledge about what happened in Tiananmen in 1989, including the existence of Tank Man, is limited within the country.  China is a great country and THC has enjoyed his many visits and his friends there but the day must come when there is a government that tells what it knows about the identity of Tank Man or when he or those who know him feel free to disclose his identity.  We hope that is sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

  1. I just realized, what makes this such a powerful image is that it's even more than a symbol of resistance of oppression, but of might vs. right in general. They had a whole column of tanks, but he had the right on his side. And for a while, the latter was a match for the former.