Tank Man

 

I meant to post this on June 5, the 30th anniversary of this event.

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 major street that I first visited in 2000, 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 incredibly brave (the massacre had already occurred so he knew what the military was capable of) and 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 7.5 million results and Wikipedia has a Tank Man article but his name and fate remain 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.

The video below shows more of 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 video uploader has disabled embeds, so you have to click to watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/qq8zFLIftGk.

The Chinese government maintains it does not know who he is or what happened to him. Is he alive? Dead? Imprisoned? Is he still at large in China? Did he escape the country? The images and videos linked here are all blocked in China and knowledge about what happened in Tiananmen in 1989, including the existence of Tank Man, is limited within the country. I only hope the day comes when there is a Chinese 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.

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There are 11 comments.

  1. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I intended to do a post on the massacre on my personal blog. So I went to DuckDuckGo looking for photos. And I found some, but very few, lots fewer than I would have expected. The article I read in the Wall Street Journal (last Saturday-I’m always behind) notes that China is doing its best to delete that massacre from memory and history, both inside and outside of China. They may be succeeding. I will be doing that post, and I plan to re-post it every year on June 4. It must not disappear from history.

    • #1
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:05 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I intended to do a post on the massacre on my personal blog. So I went to DuckDuckGo looking for photos. And I found some, but very few, lots fewer than I would have expected. The article I read in the Wall Street Journal (last Saturday-I’m always behind) notes that China is doing its best to delete that massacre from memory and history, both inside and outside of China. They may be succeeding. I will be doing that post, and I plan to re-post it every year on June 4. It must not disappear from history.

    I agree. By the way, are you seeing the video or only a link to the video?

    • #2
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:10 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Tank man showed enormous courage. I can’t imagine defying that government, never mind the long row of tanks. 

    • #3
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:43 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. The Reticulator Member

    Don’t forget to check out the coverage of the very recent protests in Hong Kong over a proposed extradition bill. The police say there were about a quarter-million protestors, so who knows what the number really is.

    • #4
    • June 9, 2019, at 6:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I see only the link to the video.

    • #5
    • June 9, 2019, at 6:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. The Reticulator Member

    They need better exhaust emission controls on those tanks. 

    • #6
    • June 9, 2019, at 6:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Stad Thatcher

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…: Is he alive? Dead? Imprisoned? Is he still at large in China? Did he escape the country?

    My guess is he’s dead. Once the army (including the tank crews) got their orders, they mowed down everyone in sight . . .

    • #7
    • June 10, 2019, at 5:47 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Stad (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…: Is he alive? Dead? Imprisoned? Is he still at large in China? Did he escape the country?

    My guess is he’s dead. Once the army (including the tank crews) got their orders, they mowed down everyone in sight . . .

    I agree that he is most likely dead, but this occurred the day after the massacre, so the army already had its orders.

    • #8
    • June 10, 2019, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. James Gawron Thatcher

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…: I only hope the day comes when there is a Chinese 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.

    Gumby,

    I don’t actually remember now where I read it but this is my impression of what happened to him. He was imprisoned by the Marxist regime. They waited a good year for everything to cool off and the foreign media to go home. Then he was quietly executed in his cell.

    I can’t remember where or when I read this account but I do very clearly remember its details. I’d like to have it verified too. Only the bright light of day can end the totalitarian nightmare.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9
    • June 12, 2019, at 7:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. JamesSalerno Coolidge

    I was listening to Stephen Kotkin talk about this and he said something that really resonated with me. We all remember the image of Tiananmen Square. But what did the protesters really change? China to this day remains totalitarian. But that doesn’t take away from the nobility of the protesters or the justness of their cause.

    It is simply proof that liberal democracies are extremely hard to build. 

    • #10
    • June 12, 2019, at 7:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. The Reticulator Member

    JamesSalerno (View Comment):
    But what did the protesters really change?

    I imagine it was much like the failed Hungarian revolution of autumn 1956. That one put the rest of the world on notice as to the true nature of the Soviet regime even without Stalin. It cost the Soviet Union a lot of allies among labor groups in western Europe, for example. That had a long-term effect.

    • #11
    • June 12, 2019, at 8:16 AM PDT
    • 2 likes