The story behind the Tiananmen Tank Man Photo

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I’ve written about the “Tiananamen tank man” before, but I just came upon this article that details how the famous picture came to be taken. It’s an amazing story in itself and one I had never heard before.

I also like the article’s close:

A decade and a half later, Widener’s photograph retains all of its potency. “It’s an urgently important message about what you can do if you have the guts to do it,” says Mickey Spiegel, a China specialist at Human Rights Watch in New York City, who has hung the photograph in every office she has occupied since 1989.

Richard Baum, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, says there’s “an emotional legacy to that shot. I think that has cost China more in public image than any other single image in modern times.”

Widener, now 47 and a staff photographer for the Honolulu Advertiser in Hawaii, has considered going to China to revisit the story. “The picture’s part of my life now,” says the photographer. “His message was, ‘Enough’s enough. There’s been enough killing. It’s got to stop.’ “

Other posts about Tiananmen Square:
Tiananmen Square revisited
Tiananmen Square re-revisited
Messages on Tiananmen Square

You can see the famous Tiananmen Tank video here.

You can read Pico Iyer’s sublime tribute to Tank Man in Time magazine here.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 67 Comments

It wasn’t at all the photograph that gave power to the people of china. To prove this statement i can honestly say that the footage of the “tank man” was only shown once on chinese television and the government used propaganda in one bold attempt to indoctrinate the country. The news broadcaster said “the tanks are resisting” in an effort to reclaim the lost power of the government. the broadcaster also says it was the ” weastern propaganda” that made it seem like the “tank man” was trying to stop something bad from happening. Oddly enough that ” weastern propaganda” was in fact the truth….however the widley unknown truth in China today. The picture was only seen once in China, andtherefore it copuld not have been the picture that sparked hope of a new china, a new idea of freedom of choice, opionions, and ideas a china without opression. If tank man was found it would bring new hope to all of us in the weastern hemisphere, but its been almost 17 years since that photo has been seen in china, it wount mean anything to the new age university students, because of all the “new freedoms” that they now have. Unfortunatly most of them do not no off the struggles of their predessors to give them such freedoms if any at all. They dont no who to thank, because many dont realise it ever happened. Its called censorship of the media.

April 13, 2006 @ 3:41 pm | Comment

Its such a shame that this world is not, and will never be, perfect. Humanity at this point is the most powerful it has ever been, and we are still not powerful enough to create anything resembling a perfect world. Maybe we have become too powerful, too advanced for our own good, in which case we are spiralling down, and our best shot at perfection has allready passed, and failed.
However, when we see People like ‘The Tank man’ It reminds us that, even against the odds, we can ahieve great things. If one man can halt millions of pounds of mankinds most advanced weaponry, dont you think six billion of us can reverse global change? Relieve Africa of poverty? create peace in the middle east?

Sadly, we cant, and we wont. Purely for this one reason.

The bottom line is money.
And nobody gives a fuck

May 16, 2006 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

I just saw the TankMan -Frontline program tonight and was moved by the photos and video all over again. Very little remains hidden, so we will eventually know who he was. The four or so persons involved in escorting him away knew him, and the operator of the tank may have known him. Why was he first contacted by a person on a bicycle who spoke to him and then two others on each side of him with a third person who seems to be running interference for them? Perhaps he was related to someone high in the party, otherwise it seems unlikely he would be spared being taken out by a sniper. It is a fabulous image of courage in any case.

May 28, 2006 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

I just saw the TankMan -Frontline program tonight and was moved by the photos and video all over again. Very little remains hidden, so we will eventually know who he was. The four or so persons involved in escorting him away knew him, and the operator of the tank may have known him. Why was he first contacted by a person on a bicycle who spoke to him and then two others on each side of him with a third person who seems to be running interference for them? Perhaps he was related to someone high in the party, otherwise it seems unlikely he would be spared being taken out by a sniper. It is a fabulous image of courage in any case. I would like to know what message that a CIA agent might read into the odd escort sequence.

May 28, 2006 @ 11:29 pm | Comment

He is alive – I got a postcard from him in 1991 when I was in a british jail for my objection to the gulf war.

May 29, 2006 @ 3:30 pm | Comment

A truly powerful image that still evokes much emotion in me, it has been said thousands of times before but still rings true that one person alone can truly make a difference

May 29, 2006 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

Does anyone know if it’s true that the Chinese eat baby stew? This is no joke! I had some most disturbing pictures sent to me by someone who lives and works in China. The pictures show aborted babies being prepared for cooking and the finished dish. I could not beleave my eyes when I first saw these pictures.

May 30, 2006 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

Did you hear that the CNA news agency in Taiwan is reporting that the tank man is alive and living in Taiwan now. June 2006.

June 3, 2006 @ 9:08 pm | Comment

What about the babies? the Tank man is history these babies are dying everyday to be consumed.

June 4, 2006 @ 5:35 pm | Comment

fuck the chinese army of 1989

June 8, 2006 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

really ? can you show the picture in here ? I wanna see it

June 9, 2006 @ 4:12 am | Comment

Don’t know how to post the abborant pictures here, or else I would have done

June 14, 2006 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

Declaration of Their Independence

As I sat here wondering what my message will be for the upcoming holiday. I slowly navigated to Internet Explorer, clicked on the desktop icon, and then I moved the mouse arrow to my favorites. I proceeded to click on the Goggle link, placed the mouse arrow in the space provided to type, and then I typed the History of Independence Day. While waiting to click Goggle Search, I thought about what would come up on the screen. I immediately envisioned links to websites that would resemble my search criteria. Of course I was right. So, I clicked on the first one I saw: Independence Day on the Net?Story. Well, I definitely got what I asked for. The history of America?s birthday is in big fonts, stars are all over the page, firework graphics are protruding, and that song I despise is playing. What is it? America, America… Somebody help me. By the way, the song repeats itself over and over again. That was irritating me as I tried to continue my research.

Eventually, I clicked on the icon that read: Declaration of Independence. I have read the document before. However, this time around I read it without trying to memorize selected areas of it. Then it finally hit me that the most quoted sentence of the document (We hold these truths…) precedes two extremely important sentences. Read below. Pay close attention to the second and third sentence.

?We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.?

Since the day this so called Declaration of Their Independence was written we (black folk) were not included. We were property then. I ask, what are we considered now? Answer: Since this document has not been amended and never will be we are still technically speaking, property. However, today we have been given a status to have unalienable rights. Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. I have my life. I am breathing. I guess I have liberty. I am considered free from restriction and control. Wait, is this true? Anyway, I do have the opportunity to be happy. I am happy.

Being happy is great, but why don?t I feel included? I feel like this holiday is not for me. I have asked myself time and time again, why in the world am I celebrating this holiday that does not pertain to me? My answer: ?Why not? The steaks, hotdogs, and ribs I eat on the 4th of July are always good!? The 4th is just like Thanksgiving for me. I drink and eat until I get sleepy. Then I wake-up, drink, and eat some more.

Plain and simple, Independence Day is another ridiculous day that our government has sanctioned to celebrate under the auspice of a few alienable rights. It is among numerous other holidays that we claim are our reasons to be thankful and joyous i.e. the birth celebration of Jesus Christ (not sure why this is so important. I guess he ranks up there with George Washington). Anyway, I will eat a steak on the government and I will probably stand with hundreds of other people to watch the sky light up with the colors of America via fireworks. But there is one thing I will not forget, and maybe you should not either. Read below.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.?

We should take heed to what we are summoned to do since the present government has become destructive. It is in our rights to abolish the government and institute a new one considering the elected officials have created an environment where our safety is in jeopardy i.e. terrorist attacks, and considering many of us are having difficulties pursuing happiness on several fronts because of our governmental policies.

I am ready to rebel. Are you? The Tank Man pictured in the portrait below was ready. (Click on this link to view the picture: http://www.pekingduck.org/archives/000935.php.

Written by Brian E. Payne. Inspired by that sickening flag I am bound to see waving in the sky for the next few days and the Tank Man. The Red, White, Blue, Stars and Stripes. This flag has a similar psychological effect on me after visualizing or seeing a symbol of hatred such as the Nazi used swastika or the Klansmen?s uniform: DISGUST.

June 29, 2006 @ 9:10 am | Comment

I am closing this thread because it is becoming a magnet for spam. Please send me an email if you’d like to post a comment, and I’ll reopen it for you.

Richard

September 14, 2006 @ 9:11 pm | Comment

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