Tank Man – The Unknown Rebel
Who was he…
…the man who stopped a column of Type 59 tanks on the morning of June 5, 1989? Just the day before, Chinese troops and security police massacred hundreds of pro-democracy protesters. Reporters on the scene estimated that at least 300 but possibly thousands of protesters were killed. As many as 10,000 were arrested.
Nearly a million Chinese, mostly students, crowded into central Beijing protesting for greater democracy in the Chinese political system. They called for the resignations of Party Leaders they thought were overly repressive. This went on for three weeks. Then, on June 4th, Chinese troops stormed Tiananmen Square firing into the crowds of protesters.
This photo taken on June 2, 1989 shows hundreds of thousands of Chinese gathering around the Goddess of Democracy, in Tiananmen Square demanding democracy despite martial law in Beijing. (Photo by CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
The very next day, along came Tank Man. He stood in front of a column of approaching tanks. When the tank maneuvered to go around him he repeatedly shifted his position to obstruct the tank’s progress.
After talking to the tank’s driver, video footage shows two figures in blue pulling the man away and disappearing with him into a nearby crowd.
There is no reliable information as to the man’s identity. Most think he is alive and possibly unaware of his international recognition. The Chinese are very good at repressing media events. Many young Chinese born after 1980 are not familiar with the Tiananmen Massacre and when shown a picture of the Tank Man have no idea who he was or what it meant.
The Goddess of Democracy (look familiar?) was a 10-meter-tall (33 ft.) statue created during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The statue, built by students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, was constructed of foam and papier-mâché in only 4 days. The Goddess stood for five days before it was destroyed by a tank from the People’s Liberation Army. As the statue fell, protestors shouted “Down with Fascism!” and “Bandits! Bandits!” Since its destruction, numerous replicas and memorials have been erected around the world.
Perhaps the need for freedom is in our genes. No matter how oppressive a regime is, could it be that humankind needs to be free. It can take generations, years, centuries, but the desire for freedom will always live on. Sometimes painfully slow, inch by inch, step by step, the human spirit can not be bound.