“… people all turned to making money, seeking their individual benefits and interests”. Zhang Lifan Historian, former political prisoner.
You can keep your Batman, Spiderman and Superman: Tankman was a real if anonymous 20th-century hero in a white shirt and black trousers-no leotards, no gimmicks, just plastic shopping bags and a lot of courage.
20 years ago the menacing column of 18 tanks started to pull out of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, after clearing it of protestors, to make their way down the near empty Avenue of Eternal Peace. Out of nowhere materialised a slim male who stood in the direct line of the approaching tanks. As the lead tank got within a few feet he piroetted a risky zigzag, foreshadowing the tank’s evasive moves until it stopped. He then jumped onto the tank and appeared to talk to the soldiers inside before resetting his human barrier.
Then he was gone as mysteriously as he had arrived. Executed, imprisoned or free? No one seems to know for sure. The graphic images of the unequal standoff-the human spirit against the menace of war machines- have lived on everywhere except in China, where they are banned.
In 1998 Time Magazine featured the unknown Tankman on its cover as one of the 20th century’s 100 most influential people.
Tight political control in the last 20 years, rising wealth, the self-confidence engendered by the 2008 Olympics and a wary distrust of Western democracies has lead to the emergence of an apolitical cadre of Chinese students, most of whom appear to know little of the Tiananmen tragedy and less of Tankman’s heroics the day after after the tanks rolled in and literally crushed the “counter revolutionary” movement for democracy.
In the days leading up to the 20th anniversary the security forces have been circling the square like a non paper tiger patrolling its cage. This is not an occasion the authorities want marked.
You couldn’t access this YouTube item if you were in China-it’s behind a firewall in the Forbidden Digital City- but take a look (and a listen) at Peter M. Steven’s video compilation, with some posthumous musical help from John Lennon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV-tk8CrqCQ
[l1]Date 5 June