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halcyon; ephemeral; timeless
June 7, 2014 5:35 PM   Subscribe


 
This is fantastic!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:40 PM on June 7


Really nice.

spiegel has a decent story. Fahrenheit 1989: China Erases Memories of Tiananmen
posted by bukvich at 5:44 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Amazing, thank you for the link...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:53 PM on June 7


The iconic image is that photograph of the one protester, standing in defiance before a bunch of tanks. We've all seen that photo.

That image isn't real.

Here's the photo you actually saw, back when it was broadcast everywhere.

The first photo is now a standard example showing how people accept doctored photos if the image seems to represent the memory of what happened. People remember that moment as being a big moment, so they are willing to accept that there was a huge crowd watching that protester stand there. But the crowd was photoshopped into the image.

All this is interesting, I think, but not nearly as interesting as this more recently discovered image, which is real, and which shows how many tanks there really were, and how alone that protester really was. (via)
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:58 PM on June 7 [13 favorites]


I have never seen the "that photo" you posted...
posted by Windopaene at 6:01 PM on June 7 [45 favorites]


me neither.
posted by grubby at 6:02 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


Thirding. I've never seen a crowd there.
posted by solarion at 6:04 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I have never seen the "that photo" you posted...

Maybe you're too young. Here's a test. One of these two images is real. Do you know which one?
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:06 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I have definitely never seen the one with the crowd.
posted by elizardbits at 6:07 PM on June 7 [7 favorites]


And before you trot out the too young bollocks let me remind you that I am a 1,000 year old eldritch abomination.
posted by elizardbits at 6:08 PM on June 7 [28 favorites]


Me neither, neither at the time or during the anniversary remembrances this year. For one thing, the faked version is vastly less impressive -- it is the emptiness and the smallness of the anonymous protestor before the vast mechanical power that make it such a desperately memorable image.
posted by tavella at 6:10 PM on June 7 [10 favorites]


I might be missing the point twoleftfeet is making, but in the article twoleftfeet linked to the iconic image was doctored (i.e. had the crowd added to it) as a part of an experiment.
posted by aroweofshale at 6:11 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I've also never seen it, and given the second comment, am wondering if the first was in jest.
posted by aaronetc at 6:15 PM on June 7


Yeah, I wish I were too young. Likely older than you are...
posted by Windopaene at 6:18 PM on June 7


Kinda doubt they used Photoshop.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:31 PM on June 7


I'm not sure what point twoleftfeet is trying to make, but I think it would be preferable not to play weird games like that. The image presented seriously as the one everyone knows is not actually known by anyone, and this is in the context of a discussion of false history. Please do not troll.
posted by clockzero at 6:54 PM on June 7 [24 favorites]


I remember it well. If someone had told me than that 25 years later nothing would change, that in some ways things are more repressive than ever, I would have been unable to believe it. Glasnost was rapidly changing the Soviet Union forever, the Berlin Wall was coming down almost simultaneously and it was like the whole world was stepping back from the insanity of imminent nuclear war that had darkened my entire life until that point. Sure, everyone knew that heads were going to get cracked this time, but when you see thousands of students willing to die for representative democracy one assumes the nation has passed the point of no going back. That the Chinese government has been able to silence this movement so effectively at the dawn of the Information Age is hard to comprehend.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:55 PM on June 7 [14 favorites]


wow.
posted by threeants at 7:38 PM on June 7


I'm not sure what point twoleftfeet is trying to make, but I think it would be preferable not to play weird games like that.

I think I was trying to make some sort of point that involved the way new images of remembered events affect our memories of those events. But maybe I tried to make the point too quickly, and it came off as a weird game.

Sorry about that.

There's a standard example now in the psychology of remembered images that involves that doctored image of that protester at Tiananman Square, and this post about new images of that event reminded me of that.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:11 PM on June 7


These are some wonderful new images of Tiananmen in 1989, really.

And then we got a little derail with the provenance of the tank man photos... Ok. Pisstake perhaps.

But, I have got to ask (in this thread or wherever; it never seemed apropos before)... In the tank man photos with the widest field of view, it's clear that he's blocking a column of tanks that are leaving Tiananmen square. Is that not odd?

I don't mean to be that guy here, but I've been to that place, and I've wondered since.
posted by rlk at 8:30 PM on June 7


he's blocking a column of tanks that are leaving Tiananmen square

Is that right? The way I'm reading that image, the cannon part (which I assume is in the front) is facing the protester.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:56 PM on June 7


Right, but the majority of protesters are behind the tanks...the tanks are moving away from them it seems.
posted by sio42 at 9:02 PM on June 7


I'm still looking at this wide angle image. I don't see a "majority of protesters."

What are you looking at?
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:06 PM on June 7


Not to seem petty or anything, but of course it would change the entire meaning of the iconic image of Tiananmen Square if that solo protester was standing behind the tanks.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:08 PM on June 7


The photographs are interesting, especially the photos of what I'd probably inaccurately call hipsters. I have really vivid but impressionistic memories of the event, all from the tv and newspaper coverage. Contrary to what someone above said, I had no sense at the time that it was going to end so brutally (any more than I had insight that the Berlin Wall would fall peacefully). The images I remember are more from a distance, not this kind of up close and individual portrait, though I am sure I saw both at the time.

I was only a few years younger than most of the people protesting, and I can remember laying there in the dark listening to live BBC coverage as the scale of the violence became clear and how that felt.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:22 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


I don't think rlk is saying the tanks aren't facing the protester; rlk is saying that in the wide-angle photo, the tanks (headed towards the camera) are leaving Tiananmen Square, which is the open area in the background. This is the Google Earth image of the section of Chang'an Avenue I think the photo shows (this New York Times article says the photographs we have of that protester were all taken from the Beijing Hotel). I don't have an answer as to why the protester would block tanks leaving the square.

Back to the original story, it's weird that these might actually be the first pictures I've seen of the student protests themselves, as opposed to the Tank Man photo. I assume other photos of the protesters made it out of China (though at least one photographer in that New York Times article mentions his roll of photos of the wounded was confiscated) but for some reason I don't recall ever seeing them. I definitely didn't know about the Goddess of Democracy.

I wonder where all these people are now.
posted by chrominance at 9:22 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


The Wikipedia article on the Tank Man says the pictures were taking on the 5th, the day after the crackdown.
posted by ckape at 9:25 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


The Wikipedia article on the Tank Man says the pictures were taking on the 5th, the day after the crackdown.

That's just messing with my head.

It is kind of a big derail to start focusing on the Tank Man image when the original post is something else. But that Tank Man image is the reference point, the baseline, against which we judge new images of that event. So it's not wrong to get that foundation right.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:41 PM on June 7


I don't remember any photo. I remember CNN. This happened.

As a former infosec guy for an institution the 7th Bureau of the 3PLA was constantly targeting, Chinese propaganda is subtle and insidious. They want you to remember a faked photo that was never faked instead of remembering the true video footage, and how incredible and courageous he was.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:52 PM on June 7 [17 favorites]


That Statue of Liberty, what did they do with her? Did they just knock her down or did they buy her off? Maybes she oversees an iPhone factory now?

Thank god for images like these. Let's never forget that democratic revolutions are cool as fuck.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:57 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


That Statue of Liberty, what did they do with her?

They took her from us and made her their own. That's the Goddess of Liberty.

She's the Goddess of Liberty here in New York Harbor, too, only we forget sometimes, and think of her only as a statue.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:03 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


It felt like young people were willing to do the hard work to fix the world back in the late 80s and early 90s. It's hard to reconcile the way it was then with the world now sometimes. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

I remember seeing video of the lone protestor, not photos. This was in Europe btw. He kept moving in front of the tanks as they tried to go around him, for a moment you thought the driver of the tank would get out and join him, it was so obvious he didn't wish him any harm. It seemed so stupid, like a game, like the young tank driver couldn't possibly have more loyalty to some old military dude than he did to his own generation!

Also, at the time, all the protestors looked like grown ups to me. Now they all look so, so young. I wonder what happened to those people? I would love to find out what they've done with their lives. How do they feel about the way current urban China has embraced capitalism without really embracing democracy? Are they still activists?
posted by fshgrl at 10:15 PM on June 7 [7 favorites]


Also, at the time, all the protestors looked like grown ups to me. Now they all look so, so young. I wonder what happened to those people? I would love to find out what they've done with their lives. How do they feel about the way current urban China has embraced capitalism without really embracing democracy? Are they still activists?

Honestly, my first question would be more basic: how many of them are still alive?
posted by chrominance at 10:29 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


This was in Europe btw.

I also saw it through European media; I've never had a good sense of how different the coverage was compared to what people in the US saw and read.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:29 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Slap*Happy, that was fascinating; as the way I heard Tank Man debunked was he just stood there for a moment, for the photo, that he hadn't actually stopped a whole column. And thank you also, twoleftfeet, for your wide angle view, but like others I've never seen your weird, crudely doctored "photo you actually saw."
posted by Rash at 10:56 PM on June 7


He kept moving in front of the tanks as they tried to go around him, for a moment you thought the driver of the tank would get out and join him, it was so obvious he didn't wish him any harm. It seemed so stupid, like a game, like the young tank driver couldn't possibly have more loyalty to some old military dude than he did to his own generation!

I've always wondered too what happened to the tank driver. Tank Man might have been able to disappear into the crowd eventually, but I'm pretty sure the tank driver's reluctance to run him over would not have pleased higher ups.

In the tank man photos with the widest field of view, it's clear that he's blocking a column of tanks that are leaving Tiananmen square. Is that not odd?

This happened after all the protesters had already been cleared (one way or another) from Tiananmen Square and Chang'an Avenue. If you watch the video, he's got groceries or something in his hands. I would imagine he's just protesting the very fact that tanks are in his city at all, tanks used by his own government against their own people. It doesn't matter where the tanks are moving, they don't belong there at all.

Back to the original story, it's weird that these might actually be the first pictures I've seen of the student protests themselves, as opposed to the Tank Man photo. I assume other photos of the protesters made it out of China (though at least one photographer in that New York Times article mentions his roll of photos of the wounded was confiscated) but for some reason I don't recall ever seeing them. I definitely didn't know about the Goddess of Democracy.

Huh... there's always been tons of photos of the protesters, pre 6/4 and after. And I'm surprised you never heard about the Goddess of Democracy... but I suppose that I have an especially keen interest in the Massacre since I was born in Beijing, I lived there and even passed by the Square many times that summer.

Here's a couple of recent articles with lots of photos:

Tiananmen Protesters Were Heartbreakingly Young, Earnest, and Happy

Tiananmen Square Still Haunts Photographer Brothers After 25 Years
posted by kmz at 11:03 PM on June 7 [8 favorites]


standing in front of large hostile vehicles is kind of a crapshoot. tiananmen square tank guy lives, rachel corrie dies.
posted by bruce at 11:14 PM on June 7


This what I saw as a kid. Americans or Canadians video'ed it by the accents. I'm surprised if you haven't seen it. It was all over the TV at the time. I heard the driver was disciplined for not running the protestor over. I heard the protestor was shot. Both of those facts were on the news at the time, no idea if they were true but that's what we heard.

One note: I remember watching this with a bunch of local girls and our mothers, no men. It must have been a slumber party or something because there were women there who didn't get along. I remember the older women being uniformly surprised it was a man, not a woman. Like they thought only women went against society like that. I asked my parents about it later and they told me that women had less to lose so they were braver then men. Made total sense to me.
posted by fshgrl at 11:18 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Yeah, indeed, some of us remember seeing the video of him challenging the tanks. It's quite arresting. He absolutely jumps in front of tanks moving toward him and makes them stop.

I don't think it's especially pertinent that the tanks were "leaving" the square. If any of you know the story, well, the regime was terrified of a general rebellion and couldn't even trust the militia or local PLA units (indeed, these units had abjectly failed to enforce the initial declaration of martial law on May 20, demonstrably unwilling to fire on masses of unarmed protesters), so they brought in literal cavalry from the provinces, manned by rural kids with less exposure to Western media (in those days that meant a LOT less) and ideas. The military then virtually occupied Beijing for some time. The period of June 5-7 involved securing the main thoroughfares. Martial law remained in place for an entire year following the crackdown.

I wonder what happened to those people? I would love to find out what they've done with their lives.

It's my understanding that many of them were jailed, and in time the government quietly encouraged many to emigrate -- so they've ended up in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vancouver. It has proven an expedient solution even as the current leadership has used economic growth and other non-political carrots to serve as a relief valve for dissent. There's no question some were killed, but there were so many and documentation is so sparse that it would be impossible to really work out beyond broad generalizations.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Getting away from Tank Man...

The better thing about Tiananmen - never mind our fondness for the image of the lone man against the overwhelming force of oppression - was that it really did involve a whole lot of people just showing up to an event that seemed to signify something new and better.

It's pretty mundane, but I suspect that's how things really get done.

We talk about the heroes and the martyrs and the great men and women and their glorious deeds, but really great change probably comes from a huge number of people making relatively small and relatively safe decisions.

I look at those images of Chinese people in 1989, near Tiananmen Square, and I wonder what they were thinking. Of course, I don't know what they were thinking, but I look at the guy at the bottom left of this image and my mind fills in this thoughts: "My bus is going to be late." That's what he was thinking, according to the telepathic link I established with him, using that image.

Or look at the guy staring at his bicycle toward the left in that image. What was he thinking? Maybe he was thinking about his bicycle.

Whatever they were thinking, they were there together, which was something new.

Huge changes in society are like this; zillions of small moments of people just being ordinary people, but together tilting, ever so slightly, in a new direction.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:34 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


I look at those images of Chinese people in 1989, near Tiananmen Square, and I wonder what they were thinking. Of course, I don't know what they were thinking, but I look at the guy at the bottom left of this image and my mind fills in this thoughts: "My bus is going to be late." That's what he was thinking, according to the telepathic link I established with him, using that image.

What the hell?
posted by yoink at 5:51 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


China's propaganda machinery is an abomination (in some ways more cynical and manipualitive even than our own) and shockingly many Americans seem to be partly or completely in its thrall. China within its borders has effectively totally suppressed the political impact of these events through totalitarian control. It's monstrously inhumane but as long as the US keeps the money flowing, it will keep working.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:50 AM on June 8


>That Statue of Liberty, what did they do with her?

They took her from us and made her their own. That's the Goddess of Liberty.


I recall seeing video of an armored personnel carrier smashing into the base and knocking it down while the army was clearing the square.

I looked all over the web for video of the destruction of the statue, it has apparently been lost or scrubbed. But while I searched, I found this photo that brought me to tears. An artist could scarcely dream of creating an icon like this.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:15 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


Is it weird that I am worried for these protesters' safety, 25 years after the fact, due to new photos to apply facial recognition to?
posted by Joe Chip at 8:50 AM on June 8


Twoleftfeet, I like your comment, but could you expand on the "telepathic link" idea? I think I understand what you're getting at, but it does sound a bit kooky.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 8:51 AM on June 8


Is it weird that I am worried for these protesters' safety, 25 years after the fact, due to new photos to apply facial recognition to?

I don't mean to minimize the Chinese government's oppression of democracy activists or the very real dangers those activists face, but in May of 1989, there were millions of people protesting all over the country. The vast majority of those people went on to get jobs, have kids, and live "normal" lives. They're the ones who tacitly accepted the Party's bargain: economic prosperity in exchange for giving up on the idea of democracy. As long as the protesters in those photos have been holding up their end of the bargain -- as long as they haven't been organizing protests or writing papers on democracy -- the government isn't interested in hunting them down.
posted by bradf at 9:26 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


That Statue of Liberty, what did they do with her? Did they just knock her down or did they buy her off?

Yes, the military knocked her down -- I've seen a photo of the pieces strewn across the ground. Night-time shot, presumably just after it happened. But now, there are many replicas -- I've visited the Goddess of Democracy in SF Chinatown, and I'd love to see that big golden one in Hong Kong.
posted by Rash at 9:33 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Thousands of student protestors were slaughtered at the time. China would like everyone to forget that, and many of us, evidently, are just fine with that. I guess keeping the peace in Hell by feeding the damned a steady diet of lies is as close to Heaven as some of us can aspire to.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on June 8


I wonder what happened to those people? I would love to find out what they've done with their lives. How do they feel about the way current urban China has embraced capitalism without really embracing democracy? Are they still activists?
Well, here's what happened to one of the people who turned their back on the protesters:

"With Choice at Tiananmen, Student Took Road to Riches"
"...the head of the official student union of Peking University at that time. His name is Xiao Jianhua. Mr. Xiao never opposed the government, and the events of June 1989 did not make him one of China’s “most wanted.” Instead, they catapulted him into the ranks of its most wealthy.
posted by blueberry at 10:59 AM on June 8


Selling out has always paid well.

China's totalitarian largely successful efforts to rewrite history and control the minds of its people are morally, spiritually and intellectually unforgivable and will eventually prove not to have even been in the Chinese state's own best interests, but I guess there's nothing to be done about it since brutal power trumps all at this late stage in human history, so whatever.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:03 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


...ephemeral; timeless

I'm sorry, did someone say my name?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:35 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


From China to Poland, lessons from June 4, 1989 (MACIEJ BARTKOWSKI. 4 June 2014. Open Democracy.)
The Polish opposition was watching the events in China with apprehension, asking itself if their communist partners could turn once again into their oppressors, rejecting the election results and following the example of their Chinese counterparts. The Chinese communist leaders looked in turn with terror at the news from Poland, fearing the “Polish disease” would spread to their land. They were committed to stopping it before it contaminated wider swaths of the Chinese society. As it turned out, the different strategies pursued by these movements were instrumental in determining both the peaceful outcome in Poland and the violent burial of democratic hopes in China.
...
Poland’s self-limiting revolution emphasized the importance of nonviolent discipline within the resistance together with the building of a broad-based coalition of diverse groups in order to wage powerful actions of non-cooperation and disobedience. For a movement as strong as Solidarity, the goal was relatively unassertive. It was not calling for full-fledged democracy; that remained an unfulfilled dream as long as 100,000 Soviet troops were stationed in Poland. Instead, the opposition limited itself by choosing a more concrete and seemingly achievable goal: free trade unions.
...
In contrast to the Polish self-limiting revolution, the Chinese activists pushed immediately for full democratization. This happened despite the fact that the students did not manage to build a broad-based coalition of workers, peasants and intellectuals. With internal divisions among their multiple leadership centers, more radical students were unsatisfied with the concessions offered by the regime. They won free student associations and greater media freedom — and they decided to press on with the demands for genuine democracy in China. This strengthened the hand of the hardliners in the Chinese Communist Politburo that overpowered moderate voices within their own ranks.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:24 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


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