In the aftermath of the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, newspapers and TV programmes around the world displayed the image of this lone figure in a white shirt, carrying nothing more dangerous than his shopping bags, holding up a column of Chinese tanks. But no one's really sure who he is. Indeed, Time Magazine also had to call him "the unknown rebel". This fascinating programme explains the events leading up to the Tank Man's solitary protest, presents the terrible reality of the massacre at Tiananmen square, and explores the Tank Man's continuing influence and significance, and the ongoing mystery about who he actually was.
Events leading up to the protests
- The Tiananmen Square protests took place between April 15 and June 4 1989;
- Initially led by students, demanding greater freedom of speech and less corruption within China's ruling Communist party, the protests eventually took in other intellectuals, labour activists, urban workers, doctors, nurses, and even members of the armed forces with numerous other grievances;
- On May 4, more than 100,000 students and workers marched on the Chinese capital Beijing;
- On May 13, large numbers of protestors occupied Tiananmen Square and went on hunger strike;
- There were sympathetic uprisings in 400 more cities;
- On May 20, the government declared martial law;
- More than 300,000 troops from all over China were called up to crush the revolt.
Initially the troops were blocked from entering Beijng and turned back by peaceful protesters. On the night of June 3, the army returned with orders to clear all protestors from Tiananmen Square by the following dawn. Protestors blocking the troops' entry at every major intersection of the road leading to Tiananmen Square were fired on with live battlefield ammunition. Their barricades were trampled by tanks.
By 5:30am Tiananmen Square had been cleared. Some estimates put the number of casualties as high as 3,000. The Chinese government claimed 241 had been killed and 7,000 wounded. The Chinese Red Cross meanwhile, put the figure at 2,600 (but later retracted this estimate under intense government pressure). 7-10,000 are said to have been injured;
The following day desperate parents went to the square to find their children. They too were fired upon. When ambulances went to pick up the injured from these incidents, even they were met with a hail of bullets.
The Tank Man
Shortly afterwards, when the square was once again cleared, the tanks paraded down the main highway, under the view of the Western media staying in an overlooking hotel.
One man, wearing a white shirt, carrying what looked like his shopping, stepped out in front of a tank and stopped the whole column.
The unknown rebel berated the tank's driver and refused to let him pass for several minutes, clearly risking his own life, until he was bundled away by four other men.
The photograph of the incident became one of the most famous images of the 20th century.
The massacre was one of the low points of the last century. At the time it looked as thought it may bring about the collapse of the Chinese Communist Party. That didn't happen, but as this documentary explains the repercussions were still felt worldwide largely thanks to the Tank Man. The famous picture inspired people all over the Eastern Bloc who used his act of defiance and self-sacrifice as an example in their own bids to overthrow dictatorial communist regimes.
Interesting as it would be to know how Tank Man really was, however, the mystery only enhances the legend of this most enigmatic hero.
And what is certain is that this legend will endure, and that his brave example has continuing significance in a world where Western corporations such as Google, Yahoo and Cisco Systems have so easily caved in and agreed to self-censor themselves in order to enter the Chinese market. If you look for images of Tiananmen Square from Google in China, the documentary explains, Tank Man isn't there.
Yahoo and Cisco have even helped the notorious Chinese security services capture agitators. The unforgettable image of one man standing in front of a murderer's tank is there to remind them (and us) that there is a better way.
Video Codec: XviD
Video Bitrate: 1012 kb/s
Video Resolution: 640x480
Video Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1
Frames Per Second 29.970
Audio Codec: MP3
Audio BitRate: 128 kb/s VBR
Audio Sample Rate 48000 Hz
Audio Codec 0x0055 MPEG-1 Layer 3
Audio Channels: 2
Captured By: unknown
PBS.Frontline.The.Tank.Man.2006.XviD.avi [698.52 Mb]