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June 5, 1989: "Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you."
June 3, 2009 10:20 AM   Subscribe

The iconic image of Tienanmen Square protests was that of the "Tank Man," a lone individual who stepped in front of a column of armored vehicles at the height of the massacre. On the eve of the anniversary of the protests, the New York Times interviews the four photographers who took images of the event, including how they got their film out of China, and there is also a video of the event, where you can see the man blocking the tanks. In a program available in full online, Frontline tries to find the identity of Tank Man, and finds that China has been remarkably successful in erasing the image from public memory. [prev.]
posted by blahblahblah (24 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a great overview of the subject, many thanks. I remember Tank Man from 1989 when I was small and I never got around to finding out more about him - that he climbed on the tank, that he was taken from the scene by a few bystanders. And man, that video really brings the event home.

(To be perfectly honest, all this time I'd assumed they just ran him over, which either speaks to my opinion of the Party or the power of the images - your pick.)
posted by donblood at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2009


that he was taken from the scene by a few bystanders

Those were not bystanders. They were plain clothes security police.
posted by tkchrist at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2009


I don't think that's actually been confirmed. I think pretty much everything about his fate is unconfirmed.
posted by chunking express at 11:20 AM on June 3, 2009


One source said security police (the PSB I believe), two others said bystanders. And yeah, as chunking express points out, there's really not much to go on here.
posted by donblood at 11:28 AM on June 3, 2009


Also, the video footage of him in front of the tank is amazing to watch, even now. It's fucking incredible.
posted by chunking express at 11:33 AM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, pretty much all your links are in the other thread on Tiananmen square.
posted by chunking express at 11:35 AM on June 3, 2009


The scene in the documentary isn't necessarily showing actual ignorance on the part of the students that were shown the Tank Man photo:

As students, they're generally the children of people with party/government connections. This, coupled with the fact that government "observers" were present during filming, probably means that even if the students recognized the photo immediately they pretended not to for the sake of propriety.

Even around the office when I was working on the Tank Man site, there were people familiar with China who thought the kids must have been faking. However, it still says a lot that they may have felt obligated to feign ignorance.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:55 AM on June 3, 2009


The other hero in this video is the tank driver, who refused to run the man over.
posted by Acey at 11:58 AM on June 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


^ my take, too
posted by @troy at 11:58 AM on June 3, 2009


oops, move the ^ up to Mayor's
posted by @troy at 11:59 AM on June 3, 2009


Acey, I've read that the government had to bring a rural brigade in to Beijing to quell the protests because the local PLA were sympathetic to the protesters. I think there is footage of the protesters and the PLA talking to one another in The Gates of Heavenly Peace documentary.
posted by chunking express at 12:09 PM on June 3, 2009


As students, they're generally the children of people with party/government connections.

I don't think this is the case anymore. China's education system has expanded well beyond the well-connected.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:37 PM on June 3, 2009


I just kind of assumed the guy in front of the tank was taken off somewhere and shot.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:58 PM on June 3, 2009


Magnum has a feature up on their site of photos from the protests. Stuart Franklin of Magnum took the wide angle shot of the standoff. My favourite photo from the protests is this one, also by Franklin.
posted by chunking express at 1:42 PM on June 3, 2009


Incredible. All these years I'd never seen the video, and didn't know he actually climbed up onto the tank.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:45 PM on June 3, 2009


On a side note, "Tank Man" makes a fictionalized appearance as a reluctant leader of a rebel group in author Steve Erickson's apocalyptic Our Ecstatic Days. The novel explores a little of what may have happened to him...
posted by Ashwagandha at 2:51 PM on June 3, 2009


Man, what balls.

Can anyone speak to the veracity of The Tiananmen Papers, which I read some time ago and am now tempted to dust off again? It's one of the most fantastic things I've ever read, and I mean a) excellent as a thoroughly engrossing account of the events and b) so surreal that parts of it border on what I can only describe as fantasy - almost like I was reading bad science fiction.
posted by jquinby at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2009


All I have to add as far as the opinion of 'Regular' Chinese regarding the events of the Tienanmen Square Massacre is a conversation I had with a co-worker from Shanghai in 2001.

My attitude towards China came up. In the process of explaining to her that while I think Chinese and Americans have a great deal in common, the Chinese government gets in the way I said, "I will never forgive them sumbitches for what they did in Tienanmen Square. Ever." She was completely nonplussed.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:39 PM on June 3, 2009


I've read that the government had to bring a rural brigade in to Beijing to quell the protests because the local PLA were sympathetic to the protesters.

That's not the half of it. There was informed speculation at the time that the army was on the brink of insurrection, and Western authorities worried about a nuclear exchange either between Chinese units or against a target like Taiwan or Hong Kong. A taste.

Speaking as a child of the Cold War, it was one of the more gripping moments. I have this image, probably partly assembled, of Roger Mudd pointing to the location of PLA divisions on a map.
posted by dhartung at 5:06 PM on June 3, 2009


Hero.
posted by madmethods at 6:07 PM on June 3, 2009


In 1989 I was just out of college working my first "real" job. I was still very idealistic and very much into politics. Watching the coverage of the Tienanmen square massacre hit me very hard. I was horrified and terribly terribly angry. I was sure that the good people of the Western world would not stand for such atrocities. Yes, I was that naive.

Then I saw the footage of this man standing all by himself and stopping a column of tanks, screaming at the soldiers that had just run over his countrymen by the hundreds. I noticed he was holding his shopping bags, which means he didn't even plan doing was he was doing he just did it because he has seen so much that he just had to do something.

That was, and remains to this day, the single bravest thing I have ever seen. Every time I see it I am inspired all over again.

I like to let myself believe that somehow the people that hustled him away got him lost in the crowds before the government found him and that he still lives somewhere in China anonymously.

I guess I'm still kind of naive.
posted by Bonzai at 9:37 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Behind the Scenes: A New Angle on History
posted by homunculus at 1:15 PM on June 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


homunculus's link is utterly riveting.
posted by cgc373 at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2009


I like how he was walking home with some groceries when he intervened.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:01 PM on June 4, 2009


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