Tank Man redux

So I’ve had the chance to watch the Frontline presentation. It was fascinating.

Not surprisingly, there was little substantive information regarding Tank Man. No one knows anything about him. Or rather, nobody who knows anything about him is talking. And we can hardly blame them. Who would want to admit to being associated with a man who embarrassed the Chinese regime? And if Tank Man is still free, who would want to risk fingering him to the authorities?

The general consensus is that Tank Man was no part of the Beijing protest. Most seem to agree that he was likely a bystander caught up in the outrage and who decided to take a stand. He was simply expressing his righteous indignation at the oppression he was seeing.

We can find hope in the fact that most seem to believe that he was not carried off by the police. A couple of people who were interviewed noted wryly that the Chinese police are not so gentle as were those who escorted Tank Man out of the street. They surmise that these were other bystanders or friends who knew Tank Man was moments away from arrest or death, and wished to rescue this brave soul from himself. We cannot know if he was later identified (the video never gives us any real identifying features, but the tank crew certainly got a good look at him) and taken. I pray not.

The episode spent a lot of time examining the government’s attempts to erase Tank Man. The government rigidly controls any public mention of the Tiananmen Square episode. It also explored the dual nature of China: Urban China, which is becoming increasingly involved in commercialization and is reaping the material benefits; and Rural China, which is in many ways paying the costs of that commercialization, receiving less and less government support and plagued with rampant poverty.

I thought that having posted the blog entry and watching the show had somewhat purged me of my emotional connection with the Tank Man. Nope. Just a few minutes ago, I checked a website with information regarding Tiananmen Square. The webpage, of course, prominently displayed the famous image of the Tank Man. I still felt the chills and my throat constrict.

I hope I never loose that sense of awe for the Tank Man and all he represents.

3 Responses to “Tank Man redux”

  1. The Unknown Commenter Says:

    This links to an AP photo (a famous one, apparently) of Tank Man in action:

    Wikipedia has an enormous entry about the Tianamen Square protests that includes the following paragraph about Tank Man:

    The suppression of the protest was symbolised in Western media by the famous film and photographs, taken on June 5, after the attack on the square, of a lone unarmed white-shirted man standing in front of a column of 18 tanks and APCs which were attempting to drive out of Tianamen Square which had become a staging area for at least 60 or more tanks, and as the column approached an intersection on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, halting their progress. He reportedly said, “Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery.” The “tank man” jumped back and forth as the tank driver attempted to go around him. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the lead tank for a while, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside, and then returned to his position blocking their way when the lead tank again attempted to move, just before being quickly pulled aside by six or seven onlookers who perhaps feared they were just about to shoot or roll on this man. Despite efforts, to this day Western media sources are unable to identify that solitary figure. Time Magazine dubbed him The Unknown Rebel and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Shortly after the incident, British tabloid the Sunday Express named him as Wang Weilin, a 19-year-old student; however, the veracity of this claim is dubious. What has happened to Wang following the demonstration is equally obscure. In a speech to the President’s Club in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn — former deputy special assistant to President of the United States Richard Nixon and a member of the President Ronald Reagan transition team — reported that he was executed 14 days later; other sources say he was killed by a firing squad a few months after the Tiananmen Square protests. In Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong writes that the man is still alive in hiding in mainland China. In Forbidden City, William Bell, Canadian children’s author, claims that he was named Wang Ai-min and was killed on June 9 after being taken into custody.

    If you visit Wikipedia, you’ll notice that there are a lot of inline links in the paragraph cited above that provide sourcing and links to other documentation. To go straight there:


    The Internet is a beautiful thing …

  2. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Yes, Wikipedia is a fantastic resource, and is usually the first to which I refer when trying to learn more about a subject. I didn’t include anything in my blog from the wikipedia article, because it did not offer any concrete information not on the show. Most of the information is on the speculation about Tank Man.

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