It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the legendary “tank man”. But this month marks the anniversary, and given that enough time as passed that a new generation has been born and without hearing about it I thought I’d give a little reminder surrounding events of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Although it is believed that Chinese troops under orders from the communist leadership massacred thousands of people, the event was immortalized in Western media by the famous video footage and photographs of a lone man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks. This man has come to be known as “Tank Man” around the world.
He reportedly said, “Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery.” As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the “tank man” moved into the tank’s path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position blocking the tanks, the man was pulled aside by onlookers who perhaps feared he would be shot or run over.
Time Magazine dubbed him The Unknown Rebel and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
What happened to the ‘tank man’ following the demonstration is not known. In a speech to the President’s Club in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn Ã¢â‚¬â€ former deputy special assistant to President Richard Nixon Ã¢â‚¬â€ reported that he was executed 14 days later. In Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong writes that the man is still alive and hiding in mainland China. In Forbidden City, Canadian children’s author William Bell, claims the man was named Wang Ai-min and was killed on June 9 after being taken into custody. British tabloid the Sunday Express reported that the man was 19-year-old student Wang Weilin. The last official statement from the PRC government about the tank man came from Jiang Zemin in a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters, when asked about the whereabouts of the tank man, Jiang responded that “the young man was never, never (sic) killed.”
The photo of “Tank Man” blocking a column of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Chang’an Boulevard (Avenue of Eternal Peace) near Tiananmen Square during the student uprising was taken from the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel, about half a mile away through a 400mm lens by Jeff Widener on June 5, 1989.
I’m not sure if the following video copyright is valid or not, so I’d recommend watching it ASAP before it is removed. It’s a 52 minute special on the topic at hand.