How The Tiananmen Tank Man’s Stunning Act Went Way Beyond Courage

Thirty years ago today, an anonymous Chinese man stood up to a tank in Tiananmen Square. The video below was taken on June 5, 1989, the day after the Chinese military killed hundreds of students and civilians in an effort to extinguish democratic protest.

When the tank tried to move around him, he blocked its way. Then he climbed up onto the turret to speak to the soldiers inside before returning to his position in front of the tank. Eventually, he was pulled away.

Most of us have only seen the photo of him standing before a single tank; in fact, there was a long line of them.

Tank Man, as he came to be known, was carrying what appeared to be shopping bags as though he had just happened on the tanks while out doing errands. Was he planning his defiant and stunningly powerful act, or did he decide in the moment? No one knows what happened to him. Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

 

This anonymous man created what might be the most potent image of courage-in-action of our age. We realize now that Tank Man displayed something else, equally powerful: freedom.  He acted freely, willfully, creatively, fiercely In the face of mortal danger and repression. In that blurry video, we watch a remarkable man who is, in that moment, free.

 

The photograph of Tank Man at top was made by photographer Jeff Widener as he perched on a sixth floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel. It was designated by Time One of the Most Influential Photographs of All Time.  Check out this video here of how Widener came to get the extraordinary photo. 

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