Thank you Tank Man
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
30 years ago today, the world watched a brave man standing up to a column of tanks.
His name remains unknown to me, his faith I can only presume ended that day or at least with possible imprisonment that could last for decades. What little I know of Tank Man, I do know that he was incredibly brave and if it wasn’t for the likes of CNN and world media, his courage would not have inspired people to stand up to injustice.
The image of Tank Man is still as clear in our minds as it was 30 years ago and in those three decades, the world has opened up. Months later the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and the world learnt of some of the incredible Soviet secrets that were hidden behind the Iron Curtain.
Secrets still exist, states secrets still exist and no Freedom of Information request will reveal information that a government doesn’t want known but when it comes to that man standing in front of a line of tanks and the imagines broadcast around the world 30 years ago we must be thankful for his iconic bravery.
The Tiananmen Square protests remain a censored secret hidden behind The Great Firewall of China.
Today CNN has focused on the censorship in China and government’s No Tanks attitude.
The man in the imagine is just one person but no one knows how many lives were lost in Tiananmen on the 4th of June 1989.
Thousands of Chinese protestors are believed to have been killed but no one under Chinese censorship will be discussing the anniversary.
For western eyes, it is hard to imagine such a well known massacre not being discussed but I remember back in 2003 when I was running for Student Union President of my college, I got in trouble when I used a picture of Tiananmen Square in a poster.
Taking black and white imagines of Neil Armstrong on the Moon and the infamous Tiananmen Square imagine of a person stopping tanks in their tracks, I used comments like, one small step for students and if one student can stop a column of tanks, imagine us united.
I didn’t see anything controversial in my posters but I started receiving massages to take down the posters as they were problematic for the many Chinese students in the college who were questioning what the posters represented. Tiananmen wasn't discussed so it was polemic for me raising the issue.
While I couldn’t have predicted how confusing or traumatic the images might have be to Chinese students, I was surprised how quickly college staff were to ask me to take down the posters, which I did.
There will always be controversial moments in history and lives lost but it is disappointing to see the censorship of CNN in China and the rise of Fake News claims in America and it is terrible to see how easy it is to silent such an issue.
Tank Man will always be the poster child for bravery and of non-violent protests but only if we make sure he is remembered. Where is Tank Man (imprisoned/ buried) today as we remember the 30th anniversary of the student protests at Tiananmen Square?
If only I had his bravery and stood my ground and refused to take down my posters.
UPDATE: September 13th 2019
One of the photographers who was there and photographed Tank Man at the protests, has died. Charlie Cole won the World Press Photo award in 1990 and will forever be linked to the mystery man known as Tank Man.
Thank you Charlie Cole for this amazing moment in history.