The Tank Man of Tiananmen Square
June 9, 2007 9:59 AM   Subscribe

 
See also.
posted by klue at 10:22 AM on June 9, 2007


Crap. One of these days, I'll learn how to use this thing.
posted by Flem Snopes at 10:32 AM on June 9, 2007


This one is much more viewable, though. I hope it stays.
posted by klue at 10:35 AM on June 9, 2007






I can't watch this because I'm in mainland China. Not that internet censorship is so severe--it is only because Google Video does not work in mainland China. I'm sure this is a moving film, but next time, I hope the people putting this on will investigate how to actually reach the most important audience for this pice.
posted by anotherbrick at 11:03 AM on June 9, 2007


Also, it is the 18th anniversary of the massacre, which occurred in 1989.
posted by ChasFile at 11:07 AM on June 9, 2007


anotherbrick, have you tried watching it from the Frontline site?
posted by klue at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2007


i'm completely gobsmacked by the 4 students who have no idea what it is?

Or do you think they're just pretending not to know? I would think that pretending to be ignorant is a very important skill in a dictatorship.
posted by empath at 11:14 AM on June 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I was in college at the time and on Usenet (the pre-web Internet). This was the DVD Encryption Key / Paris Hilton Sex Tape of that era. The famous picture and accounts of the event were cross-posted, emailed, forwarded, and spread like wildfire. For a while after, we geeks hailed Usenet as the ultimate almost uncensorable source of information. How things have changed. :(
posted by zengargoyle at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2007


we geeks hailed Usenet as the ultimate almost uncensorable source of information

If you can slog through all the porn, spam and cross posting, that's not really all that from from the truth.
posted by psmealey at 11:23 AM on June 9, 2007


i'm completely gobsmacked by the 4 students who have no idea what it is?

Or do you think they're just pretending not to know? I would think that pretending to be ignorant is a very important skill in a dictatorship.


I think people in the West assume that everyone is interested in politics, or even finds such events as being relevant to their daily lives.

How many people even participate in elections in Western democracies? 50%?

So four Chinese students not being aware of Tibet or whatever may just be an example of different cultural values.

Or maybe people just don't talk about politics like we do in the West.

When I lived in Japan, I rarely had conversations about politics (I speak, read, etc, Japanese, and have translated a book by a major political satirist), but it didn't mean people were not political, or that they were not interested in democracy. It's just that, as a rule, they did not talk about politics.

Different cultural values, younger folks have different priorities - not all of us are interested in hugging trees, riding bicycles naked, or hoisting GW Bush puppets.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2007


KokuRyu,
You're missing the point. This isn't just a matter of whether people are interested in politics or not. Americans may have a low turnout for elections, but if there was a mass student demonstration in Washington which the military crushed with tanks and killed hundreds or possibly thousands, I think a few more people might take notice then they would for an average Senatorial campaign.

This event was not just some minor political action, it was the largest pro-democracy action in China since the Revolution. People all over the world saw it. The fact that China has kept it hidden from the younger generation is astounding. Your Japanese analogy is flawed, because these people aren't choosing to not talk about politics; they have have no choice, because the government has censored every mention of it in the media and forbidden public discussion of it. It seems almost disingenuous to chalk the lack of knowledge of this event up to "maybe people just don't talk about politics like we do in the West." (Read homunculus' link about the government censor clerk who let a Tiananmen tribute slip into a newspaper because she had never heard about the massacre due to censorship...a victim of their own success, I guess.)
posted by Sangermaine at 11:41 AM on June 9, 2007


This event was not just some minor political action, it was the largest pro-democracy action in China since the Revolution.

Point taken. What the hell do I know? And I'm not being sarcastic. But, then again, what the hell does anyone know who is not Chinese, does not speak or read Chinese or understand the culture, or have lived in China?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2007


KokuRyu,
Well, I'm not saying ignorance of things like this (or unwillingness to talk about them) is not some cultural thing. It's just that in a society where the government forbids you from learning about this event, and speaking about it might very well result in being sent to a prison camp, it's hard to make the conclusion that the silence on the issue is due to cultural differences.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:59 AM on June 9, 2007


I guess my argument is this: in a hierarchy of needs, which is more important? Free speech or improving your way of life? My assumption is that people will often be more interested in quality of life, which is demonstrably rising in parts of China, before pressing for freedom of speech.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:02 PM on June 9, 2007


Koko, you're talking about Mass Demonstrations in the capital city, lead by student leaders from the very same university that those students are currently attending, which ended with hundreds, if not thousands of people being killed, and 300,000 soldiers occupying the city.

That's not politics, that's history and relatively recent history at that. And for University students, who I assume, as a rule, are interested in learing about the world around them, it's astounding.

It's as if students at Kent State university 19 years after the fact had no idea what happened there, even after being shown the iconic pictue of the aftermath to remind them And I doub they cherry picked those students to be ones less likely to know than the general population of the school.

It's just inconceivable.
posted by empath at 1:54 PM on June 9, 2007


Why not just link to the video at Google? I didn't care for the comment at the bottom of that page "you're being tracked"
posted by nervousfritz at 2:25 PM on June 9, 2007


Here's the Google link, plus the size of the video is better.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2300254722104314948&q=The+Tank+Man
posted by nervousfritz at 2:27 PM on June 9, 2007


I don't understand any variation of Chinese so I don't know if this is true, but someone posted on Reddit that the students in the video were mis-translated. One said to another something about "June 4" and other vague comments about the event which indicated they knew a lot more than what they were willing to let on.

Is there anyone here who could verify this?
posted by pandaharma at 3:42 PM on June 9, 2007


Many of my students are from mainland China (studying abroad in Canada). One day in class the subject of the Tienanmen Square massacre came up, and as other students started to criticize the actions of the Chinese government on that day, one of my Chinese students became quite agitated. He said that the man who ran in front of the tank was a bad man--that he was an anti-government terrorist. He said there had been a bomb in the grocery bag, and that is why the man was taken away. He was very convinced that this was the truth, and he was upset that others believed something different.

What I found interesting was that this student was a very thoughtful person who in other ways could be fairly critical of his home country and government. But this particular topic was very touchy for him.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:35 PM on June 9, 2007


Is there anyone here who could verify this?

Yes, the translations were off. When the woman in the square is screaming at the soldiers in the transport, the subtitles said she was saying "Brother soldier" repeatedly, but actually she was saying 你们不准这样, "You cannot do this!"

It's as if students at Kent State university 19 years after the fact had no idea what happened there

Worse, it's as if students at Harvard had no idea what had happened 18 years ago. Beida is the most prestigious university in China.
posted by jiawen at 5:22 PM on June 9, 2007


In my year here, I've found almost every Chinese person I know has brought it up at some point without my prodding (they know I love history and politics and conversations veer in that direction). The one exceptions was my new Chinese teacher, a 21 year old Han from Xinjiang Province who's previous political statements stayed in "There are those who wish to divide China, are you one of them?!" range. I told her what happened and she only half believed me. I wondered if it was even my place, but a Chinese friend with us pitched in and added her knowledge.

A young and thoughtful Party-member friend simply said, "I agree with the students, but perhaps if they won China would be many nations now, not one."

My boss remembers his parents taking him to Xi'an University to watch demonstrations there. He knew things went back when the news started saying the students were rioting and killing people.

Others have used it as an example of how the government is bad but not to be messed with.

It's taking a curious twist in Hong Kong, where the CCP lovin' governor is lashing out against citizens for believing the hype and adamantly denies there was any massacre. Last week he said that because Hong Konglians were so easily duped by Western media sources and so willing to go against the Party line that it would cost them true democracy, which would have to be delayed until 2022.
posted by trinarian at 8:23 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


The number of people killed was really a drop in the bucket in terms of daily deaths and the population of china.
posted by captaincrouton at 11:38 PM on June 9, 2007


The number of people killed was really a drop in the bucket in terms of daily deaths and the population of china.
God alone knows what this is supposed to mean or excuse.
If you see no distinction between an assault by the state on peaceful citizens, premeditated and organised at the highest level; and general mortality or low-level abuses of power you have no moral compass and no understanding of the social compact. The June 4 killings exposed the utter illegitimacy of the "Peoples' Republic" in a way that even the mass deaths in the post-Great Leap famine did not. The party know this and that's why they seek to avoid all mention of it in the wider public domain.
I often wonder if Wen Jiabao will play some role in a final coming to terms with the killings. He was Zhao Ziyang's right hand man and stayed loyal to Zhao even when the latter was cast into the wilderness for being too decent a man to countenance the bloodshed.
posted by Abiezer at 4:12 AM on June 10, 2007


Abiezer, most of my readings suggest that 1) what happened was not widely supported within the party at the time. Many party members were out there at the beginning and 2) today there is debate within the party about fessing up and calling it what it was.

I don't think it exposed some inherently evil nature of the Party. I think it exposed the deep existential fear of what would happen if things changed politically as fast as they had changed economically since Mao died. The Socialist World was falling apart around them, there were deep and tragic wounds committed by Mao that hadn't healed, and the people had a taste for change on their tongues since economic liberalization. They were terrified. They overreacted and some really bad things happened as a consequence.
posted by trinarian at 5:52 AM on June 10, 2007


I watched this on Frontline when it came out.

put in context, it really is amazing what the man did. (and I always get flustered when I realize how competent our current president's dad was comparitively)
and as much as I'd like to chide China for hiding the history of what happened in 1989, it seems just as hidden here, only left out in the open. (I mean, it's not sexy, and if not on a standardized test, why bother to teach about it?)

I think politicians here should point to this when explicating why we in the united states need 'free speech zones' during big political events.
posted by Busithoth at 6:42 AM on June 10, 2007


I'm aware of different responses and debate by party members, trinarian, but I honestly think it does show up the nature of party power in its true light.
A good friend of mine who as a young teacher led the students from his institution to the square and was there on the day of the killings says something similar to you last point, and also believes that ultimately the continuation of the existing regime was necessary, largely because he feels that any changed regime brought in by the students would have failed to handle the likely ensuing rural unrest.
Why I say what I do about legitimacy is similar to your last sentences - when push came to shove, it was power above all else that mattered. That exposes the idea that the party is the vanguard of the popular interest. Bigger men like Zhao may have been prepared to chance a compromise, but in a Bolshevist organisation like the CCP the hardliners were always going to win out. The party was shown definitively to have placed its own continued monopoly of power above all else. You could debate that, saying like my friend that in the bigger picture stability was the most important. I'm sure you're right about the kind of fears that guided the decisions. Where else would that be any kind of excuse for ordering the army to shoot unarmed citizens? Remember they even had to get a second lot of troops in because the local brigades couldn't be trusted to do it. I think it's telling that the party chooses to mostly say nothing rather than aggressively push the line that it was for the greater good.
I do think the next generational shift in China's leadership could see some kind of reckoning. When you look at the major changes in policy since 1949 they tend to go in those twenty-five year cycles that mark such changes of the guard.
posted by Abiezer at 6:50 AM on June 10, 2007


and as much as I'd like to chide China for hiding the history of what happened in 1989, it seems just as hidden here, only left out in the open. (I mean, it's not sexy, and if not on a standardized test, why bother to teach about it?)

I don't see how it's "just as hidden" at all. I learned about Tiananmen in school, and most of the people I know are very familiar with the events that occurred there in 1989. And if it's "out in the open" it's definitely not "just as hidden" whether a majority of people inform themselves about it or not.
posted by the other side at 7:49 AM on June 10, 2007


It's as if students at Kent State university 19 years after the fact had no idea what happened there, even after being shown the iconic pictue of the aftermath to remind them

I honestly don't think it would take us too long to rassle up a couple of these speculative students for you.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:01 AM on June 10, 2007


My then-partner & I had to get the TV out of the closet to watch the news about Tienanmen Square. The news reports talked quite a bit about the role the nascent intert00bes played. I hoped then that the internets might someday help folks like Tank Man actually prevail. I don't know, now, but I think it's our only chance.
posted by taosbat at 12:20 PM on June 10, 2007


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