The Mystery of the Tiananmen Tank Man

Monday, June 01, 2009

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the crushing of the Chinese pro-democracy movement by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), culminating in what came to be known as the Tiananmen Massacre. In China the CCP, which controls all media and all textbooks, the uprising is largely ignored. But in the rest of the world, the incident is still symbolized by one iconic image: a single man standing in front of a column of tanks. However, the identity of the person responsible for this image of defiance against authoritarianism remains a mystery to this day.

On June 5, 1989, after the Chinese Red Army had moved into Tiananmen Square and broken up a huge and long-running protest against the Communist government, the unidentified man stepped into the square to confront a column of tanks on Chang’an Boulevard. Armed only with shopping bags, the man stood his ground, while millions of viewers watching on television wondered if he would be squashed by the tanks. The lead tank tried to go around the man, but he kept moving in front of the tank. When the tank stopped, he climbed on top and engaged in an unrecorded conversation with the crew. Finally, the mystery man was whisked off by three men, whose identities also have remained unknown.
Since then many theories have circulated to explain who the “tank man” was. The Sunday Express in England claimed he was Wang Weilin, 19, but that assertion has been largely refuted. An anonymous writer from Hong Kong claimed the tank man was an archaeologist who eventually found safety in Taiwan, where he worked for the National Palace Museum. But the museum denied that was true. Others have assumed the man was captured by the Chinese secret police and thrown into prison. But the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights said it had Communist party documents showing the government was never able to find tank man.
It is possible the man is still alive, but remains unaware of his international fame.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
The Tank Man (PBS Frontline)


Mike Licht 14 years ago
Tank Man lives. Updates of this iconic image are all over the Web today. Here, for example:

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