Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 4, 2011

Tank Man

June 4, 1989: Protests in Tiananmen Square come to a violent conclusion. Tiananmen Square is located in Beijing, China. Protests were led by students, intellectuals, and labor activists. The students and intellectuals were protesting against the Communist Party’s corruption and repression while the labor activists were more concerned with rampant inflation and loss of jobs. Regardless of reasons, the protests began on April 15, 1989 after people gathered to mourn the death of General Secretary Hu Yaobang.

By May 20, the People’s Republic of China’s government had declared martial law. By June 3 government troops were called in to quell the disturbance. They even brought tanks. There are varied accounts for the number of casualties during this quelling process. The Chinese government claims 200-300 deaths while the Chinese student associations and the Chinese Red Cross claim 2,000-3,000 deaths. It is agreed that between 7,000 and 10,000 were injured.

One of the most haunting images of the government intervention is a lone man standing in the middle of the street, halting the progress of four tanks. As he stood alone, the tanks came to a stop, and tried to move around him. He remained in front of them as they swerved, and he eventually climbed to the turret to speak with the driver of the lead tank, asking them to leave. He was pulled away by onlookers. His identity remains a mystery. In 1990, Barbara Walters was told that it was unknown if he was arrested or not, but he was “not killed.” Other reports say that he was executed within weeks or maybe months of the event. Still others say that he is alive and well on the mainland.

Student leaders of the protests were sought by the government for prosecution. Wang Dan was arrested and sent to prison and then sent to the United Stateson a medical parole. Zhao Changqing served six months in prison. After his release, he was again sent back to prison when he continued to ferment ill will toward the regime. Wuer Kaixi escaped to Taiwan where he is now a political commentator. Chai Ling escaped to France, and from there moved to the US.

“One alone in a Chinese square
confronted tanks, while others fled.
He stood for freedom for us all,
but few care now if he’s jailed or dead.” – James Earl Carter

“There is all the difference in the world between the criminal’s avoiding the public eye and the civil disobedient’s taking the law into his own hands in open defiance. This distinction between an open violation of the law, performed in public, and a clandestine one is so glaringly obvious that it can be neglected only by prejudice or ill will.” – Hannah Arendt

“The individual protests against the world, but he doesn’t get beyond protest, he is just a single protester. When he wants to be more than that, he has to counter power with power, he has to oppose the system with another system.” – Friedrich Dürrenmatt

“Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.” – Václav Havel

Also on this day:
Consumerism’s Helper – In 1937 Sylvan Goldman got creative and boosted sales.
Congratulations – In 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.

One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on June 4, 2012 at 11:05 am

    The tragedy I remember is that by the time this one man stood in front of the tanks all the other protestors had left Tiananmen Square- there was nobody’s speech to protect, considering that he himself did not have anything to protest about or to announce or whatever. All the protestors had slipped into Tiananmen Square after the local police had cleared it of transients so that there would be space for overnight campers for the upcoming religious holiday on their pilgrimages, each only one per lifetime. The tanks were there to ensure the religious freedom of the 500,000 or so that traveled to Tiananmen Square every year- something that “freedom of speech” advocats refuse to admit to even today. As is the truth about many “freedom” advocats are, freedom ends with what THEY want to do- the lone tank man was one of them. The protestors in Tiananmen Square respected the coming religious people by leaving- they should be remembered not this person.

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