25 Years Ago: Lone Man Confronts Tanks

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the nationwide, student-led democracy movement in China, and the subsequent June 4th military crackdown in Beijing. To commemorate the student movement, CDT is posting a series of original news articles from 1989, beginning with the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15 and continuing through the tumultuous spring. The full series can be read here.

The following photo was taken on June 5, 1989:

tank man

From an interview with journalist Jan Wong, from the PBS documentary Tank Man:

… [You saw the Tank Man confront the tanks that day] … What exactly did you see?

I was watching it from the Beijing Hotel, where we had rented a room that looked onto the north side of the square. That morning, I remember, my husband said to me, “You’d better get out here.” I rushed out onto the balcony, and I saw this lone person standing in front of this long column of tanks. … The young man — … I couldn’t see his face but I think he was young because of the way he moved, he was very fluid, he didn’t move like an older person. … He tried to step in front of the tank. … The tank turned to go around him; the tank did not try to just run him over. I thought, “Wow!” So the tank is turning and then the young man jumps in front of the tank, and then the tank turns the other way, and the young man jumps down this side. And I thought, “What’s going on?”

They did this a couple of times, and then the tank turned off its motor. … And then it seemed to me that all the tanks turned off their motors. It was really quiet; there was just no noise. And then the young man climbed up onto the tank and seemed to be talking to the person inside the tank. … After a while the young man jumps down and the tank turns on the motor and the young man blocks him again. … I started to cry because I had seen so much shooting and so many people dying that I was sure this man would get crushed. [And] I remember thinking, “I can’t cry because I can’t see; I want to watch this, but I’m getting really upset because I think he’s going to die.”

But he didn’t. … I think it was two people from the sidelines ran to him and grabbed him — not in a harsh way, almost in a protective way. … Then he seemed to melt into the crowd. Then the tanks, after a moment, just started up the engines again, and then they kept going down the Boulevard of Eternal Peace. That was the end. It was amazing. …

Read more about the “Tank Man” via CDT.

From the June 5, 1989 New York Times:

Chinese students in the United States reacted with outrage today to the army’s killing of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing, saying in a letter to President Bush that the Communist Party had turned into an ”evil fascist dictatorship.”

The students, members of China’s elite and in many cases the children of Communist Party officials, called on Mr. Bush and Congress to withdraw the Ambassador to Beijing, James R. Lilley; to bar further American investment in China, and to cut off military exchanges between the two countries.

”This is an unprecedented massacre, an atrocity,” said Pei Min Xin, a graduate student at Harvard University from Shanghai. Mr. Pei is a member of a new group, the Chinese Students Autonomous Association, that plans to hold demonstrations in front of the White House on Monday and to present President Bush with a letter of protest.

”Never before in Chinese history has the army killed peaceful students,” Mr. Pei said.

Two other photos taken on June 5, 1989 in Beijing (via CND):
mourningRelatives mourn the death of a Beijing University student killed during the last two days of violence
tanksTiananmen Square, and the area of Chang’an Boulevard in front of it, became an armed camp on June 5th after more than 200 tanks came into the city

[This series was originally posted by CDT in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the protests. If you have access to additional sources of original reporting, video, accounts or photos from the spring of 1989, please send them to us at cdt@chinadigitaltimes.net and we’ll consider including them in this series. Many thanks.]

June 5, 2014 12:00 AM
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