Tank Man

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"Tank Man" stops the advance of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989 in Beijing. Photo by Jeff Widener (Associated Press).

Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, is the nickname of an anonymous man who became internationally famous when he was videotaped and photographed during the protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. Several photographs were taken of the man, who stood in front of a column of Chinese Type 59 tanks, preventing their advance. One of the most widely reproduced versions of the photograph was taken by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press from the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel, about half a mile (800 meters) away from the scene, through a 400-millimeter lens.

Another version was taken by photographer Stuart Franklin of Magnum Photos. His has a wider field of view than Widener's, showing more tanks further away. Charlie Cole, working for Newsweek, won a World Press Award for a similar photo.[1] It was featured in Life's "100 Photographs That Changed the World" in 2003. Variations of the image were also recorded by CNN and BBC film crews and transmitted across the world. One witness recounts seeing Chinese tanks early on June 4 crushing vehicles and people under their treads, just one day before this man took his stand in front of this tank column.[2]

The still and motion photography of the man standing alone before a line of tanks reached international audiences practically overnight. It headlined hundreds of major newspapers and news magazines and was the lead story on countless news broadcasts around the world. In April 1998, Time magazine included the "Unknown Rebel" in its feature entitled Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.


[edit] Behind the image

The incident took place near Tiananmen on Chang'an Avenue, which leads into the Forbidden City, Beijing, on June 5, 1989, one day after the Chinese government's violent crackdown on the Tiananmen protests. The man stood alone in the middle of the road as the tanks approached. He held two bags, one in each hand. As the tanks came to a stop, he appeared to be trying to wave them away. In response, the front tank attempted to drive around the man, but the man repeatedly stepped into the path of the tank in a show of nonviolent action.[3] After blocking the tanks, the man climbed up onto the top of the lead tank and had a conversation with the driver. Video footage shows that anxious onlookers then pulled the man away and absorbed him into the crowd and the tanks continued on their way.[3] Eyewitness reporter Charlie Cole believes that the man was taken by secret police and was probably just one of the many executed, since the Chinese government was never able to produce him after the photo became public.[2]

[edit] Identity and fate

Little is publicly known of the man's identity or that of the commander of the lead tank. Shortly after the incident, British tabloid the Sunday Express named the man as Wang Weilin (王维林), a 19-year-old student; however, the veracity of this claim is dubious. Numerous rumors have sprung up as to the man's identity and current whereabouts, but none are backed by hard evidence.

There are several conflicting stories about what happened to him after the demonstration. In a speech to the President's Club in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn—former deputy special assistant to President of the United States Richard Nixon—reported that he was executed 14 days later; other sources say he was killed by firing squad a few months after the Tiananmen Square protests. [3] In Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong writes that the man is still alive and is hiding in mainland China.

The People's Republic of China government made few statements about the incident or the people involved. In a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters, then-CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin was asked what became of the man. The Chinese leader first stated (through an interpreter), "I can't confirm whether this young man you mentioned was arrested or not." Jiang then replied in English, "I think never killed." [sic][4] A June 2006 article in the Hong Kong Apple Daily stated that there are rumours that the man is now residing in Taiwan.[5]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ 1989 - World Press Photo World Press Photo. Last updated January 17, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Picture Power:Tiananmen Standoff BBC News. Last updated October 7, 2005.
  3. ^ a b c The Unknown Rebel Time Magazine's profile. Last accessed January 10, 2006
  4. ^ "Frontline: The Tank Man transcript". Frontline. PBS. 2006-04-11. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tankman/etc/transcript.html. Retrieved on 2008-06-30. 
  5. ^ (Chinese) Wang Weilin by tank file, Apple Daily, June 2, 2006, Page A1

[edit] References

  • The Tiananmen Papers, The Chinese Leadership's Decision to Use Force Against their Own People—In their Own Words, Compiled by Zhang Liang, Edited by Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link, with an afterword by Orville Schell, PublicAffairs, New York, 2001, hardback, 514 pages, ISBN 1-58648-012-X An extensive review and synopsis of The Tiananmen papers in the journal Foreign Affairs may be found at Review and synopsis in the journal Foreign Affairs.
  • June Fourth: The True Story, Tian'anmen Papers/Zhongguo Liusi Zhenxiang Volumes 1–2 (Chinese edition), Zhang Liang, ISBN 962-8744-36-4
  • Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong, Doubleday, 1997, trade paperback, 416 pages, ISBN 0-385-48232-9 (Contains, besides extensive autobiographical material, an eyewitness account of the Tiananmen crackdown and the basis for an estimate of the number of casualties.)

[edit] External links

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