One of the most remarkable images to come out of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 25-years-ago was that of an unarmed man standing in front of the charging line of tanks. Do you remember the man who became known as “Tank Man?”
The iconic photo was taken on June 5, 1989, almost 25-years-ago to this date. Featured on the front page of almost every newspaper and magazine on the planet, Tank Man shook the world and infuriated the leaders of China’s totalitarian government. The image of a lone human being, standing strong in the face of unimaginable might, captures one of the most unforgettable moments of modern history. Tank Man’s desire for freedom, etched forever in our collective memory, stands as a silent prayer for freedom.
In an interview published in The Guardian, Stuart Franklin from Magnum Photos — one of the men who captured the historic photograph — recalls how the events of that day unfolded in Tiananmen Square.
At the start, the Tiananmen Square demonstrations had a festive atmosphere about them, with people gathered at the popular plaza — a rare occurrence in China — to protest the ruling government, something even more unusual.
Protesters had put out posters and wheeled out a gigantic statue that became known as The Goddess of Democracy; perhaps their version of the Statue of Liberty that towers over New York’s harbor.
Before the crackdown — after weeks of protests — Franklin remembers things changing dramatically when the tanks started rolling in on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and troops converged on the crowd from all directions.
“I witnessed the troops moving into the square and clearing out the protesters on the night of June 4. I left in the early hours of June 5 with Newsweek photographer Charlie Cole and we headed back to our hotel.”
“I was on a balcony with a group of other photographers and journalists when we saw the man jump in front of the tank on 5 June. That image has now become so iconic – but what drove its impact was the fact that people had seen the man moving in front of the tanks on TV, as well as footage of the violent crackdown the night before. The still photographs that a few of us took of that ‘tank man’ scene seemed unremarkable to me, only because I was so far away on that balcony.”
Franklin recalls that many of the foreign journalists at Tiananmen Square missed the “tank man” moment because they had moved to other places to look for better food because the meals prepared at their hotel were not that great.
Ironically, those looking for a more “American” food missed out on the last peaceful moments of the Tiananmen Square protests, before things turned into a massacre 25-years-ago this week and “tank man” defied the might of the Chinese military.
Where were you the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre?
[Images via Wikimedia Commons]