Photo of the tank man on the road to Tian'anmen Square

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by aplumpton, Jun 4, 2014.

  1. There were several photos of the student who stood in front of and stopped a line of Chinese tanks exactly 25 years ago today. The few I have seen are grainy, taken with long telephotos from safe positions in surrounding buildings. The fate of most of the students who demonstrated peacefully in Tian'anmen square are history, but that of the brave student is not, and may never be, although one Chinese diplomat told an American official some years ago that he was alive. Interesting how an unknown person can create an act that has universal appeal.
    Do you know of a site that has a good copy of this significant image of a brave young person? I have only seen very poor quality copies. Apparently the western journalists/photographers were by chance in China then for the historic meeting of Chinese and Russian leaders, following years of separation of politics between these countries.
  2. A different perspective:
  3. @Craig Cooper: Interesting viewpoint. I suppose the truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.
  4. Michael, Craig, Peter, thanks for the photos and the accounts. As a singular event it appeared horrific, but context is always important (the before, the present and the future of the affair) if often forgotten or unknown, and the truth may in fact be somewhere in between. The power of the photograph is not so much fully or accurately documentary (which a single reportage or a single photo at a specific time is hard pressed to do) as something symbolic, and therefore it can often be perceived as more universal and simpler in its message.
  5. A different perspective: Cooper
    @Craig Cooper: Interesting viewpoint. I suppose the truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. --Peter Simpson​
    The heavy hand of Chinese repession has been quite real. As to whether or not the truth was distorted in the Western press, that question bears looking into, but let us not for one moment assume that there were no repressive countermeasures on the part of the Chinese regime--after the photo was taken and spread around the world.
    The worst stories (but all too credible) indicate that the Chinese government later moved tanks right across the square at night, where protesters were sleeping right there on the pavement. According to most reports, many were run over by tanks and killed, and others were swept from the square. Stories of machine gunners firing on the protesters during the night cannot be confirmed, but something happened such that the Square would be miraculously cleared of all dissidents within a remarkably brief period of time. That is, the raw force that the Chinese government restrained itself from using during the day was later used under cover of darkness.
    Anyone who goes to for an open and unbiased account is at best totally naive. The "Liberation News" is a left-wing propaganda organ which really believes that the Chinese government is a wonderful instrument of progressive social change.
    As for naivete, I saw my own share of naivete in the days after this picture came out. I first saw the picture on the front page of the Washington Post while I was at the U.S. State Department as one of many academic "associates" of the Atlantic Council, which is a pseudo-scholarly front for NATO. Trying to sort out the truth in the face of any government's claims can be extraordinarily difficult, since the "official truth" is often a cover-up. After the photo was shown in the U.S. news media, Dan Rather of CBS News said, "They will never put this genie back in the bottle." In fact, everything that I have seen indicates that the Chinese government did indeed manage to do precisely that pretty well by rolling the tanks across protesters during the dead of night.
    I came away from that entire week with a very healthy skepticism of our own "official truth" as well as that of the Chinese government, but nothing I have seen indicates that the New York Times and other "mainstream media" substantially misreported the news in this country, whereas in China the official state organs denied (and continue to deny) that the government committed atrocities against protesters. That is, the Chinese response to the protesters, including the man shown in the picture, was very severe and did manage to shut up protesters by simply killing them and scattering them. The process continues through attempts to control internet access in China. Yes, the light of freedom of expression still burns in China and elsewhere, but I have over the years become increasingly appalled at how successfully governments can suppress the truth--and, yes, that includes our own government.
    Although we will never know for sure exactly what happened at Tiananmen Square in the days and nights after the posted photo came to light, all reliable accounts indicate that the response by the Chinese government was brutal and secretive.
    The brutality of murder, repression, and censorship continue, in China and in every country on this planet. Getting the real truth out cannot be done merely with photography, since we need words to give us the larger context, but at least the posted photo shows that the greatest show of force cannot forever silence the truth. At the very least, courageous individuals will rise up from time to time to challenge authority, though many will be summarily struck down.
    The impulse to challenge coercive and violent authority lives on. Thank you, Arthur and Michael, for posting a photo that helps keep the spark of freedom alive.
  6. Truth may not be at the extremes, but it is rarely in the middle. The Internet is can be a bad place to search for political realities, but would depend on the quality of the sources. On the Internet, if the truth were to be found somewhere in the middle, Clinton would have had at least something to do with Vince Foster's death, climate change would be at best a speculative questioning, and Obama might be about half a U.S. citizen. Truth is found by research, experimentation, verification of facts, and other methodical factors, not by dividing the difference in all the stuff we hear.
  7. Well said, Fred.
    As for the ultimate fate of the man shown facing the tank in the photo, I doubt that we shall ever know what happened to him. I am not even sure that anybody knows for sure who he was. Does anybody have any updates in that regard?
  8. An evolving nation's progress is a process with many notable events. Today's youth in China have no memory of the Tiananmen event. The prior generation of youths were Mao Zedong's Red Guards.
    We will never know the outcome had the Tiananmen protest turned into a full national revolt, but history and current events can probably accurately predict what might have happened given its billion-plus population.
  10. Wow, what a worthy read! Thank you, Ellis.
  11. I think that photo was floating in a toilet tank for a day or two before it was retrieved. I think there was a Frontline documentary on the making of this picture. One flush and it would have been all over.

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