Uploaded on Aug 11, 2007
Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, is the nickname of an anonymous man who became internationally famous when he was videotaped and photographed during the Tiananmen Square protests on 5 June 1989. Several photographs were taken of the man, who stood in front of a column of Chinese Type 59 tanks, preventing their advance. The most widely reproduced version of the photograph was taken by Jeff Widener (Associated Press), from the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel, about half a mile (800 m) away, through a 400 mm lens.
Another version was taken by photographer Stuart Franklin of Magnum Photos. His photograph has a wider field of view than Widener's picture, showing more tanks in front of the man. Franklin subsequently won a World Press Award for the photograph. It was featured in LIFE magazine's "100 Photos that Changed the World" in 2003. Variations of the image were also recorded by CNN and BBC film crews, on videotape, and were transmitted across the world.
The still and motion photography of the man standing alone before a line of tanks reached international audiences practically overnight. It headlined hundreds of major newspapers and news magazines and was the lead story on countless news broadcasts around the world. In April 1998, the United States magazine TIME included the "Unknown Rebel" in its 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
The incident took place just a minute away from Tiananmen on Chang'an Avenue, which leads into the Forbidden City, Beijing, on June 5, 1989, the day after the Chinese government began cracking down violently on the protests. The man stood alone in the middle of the road as the tanks approached. He held two bags, one in each hand. As the tanks came to a stop, he appeared to be trying to wave them away. In response, the front tank attempted to drive around the man, but the man repeatedly stepped into the path of the tank in a show of nonviolent action. By looking at these two photographs and using the painted road lines as a reference, it is evident that the tank has moved forward. After blocking the tanks, the man climbed up onto the top of the lead tank and had a conversation with the driver. Reports of what he said to the driver vary, including "Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you"; "Go back, turn around, and stop killing my people"; and "Go away." Video footage shows that anxious onlookers then pulled the man away and absorbed him into the crowd and the tanks continued on their way.
Little is publicly known of the man's identity. Shortly after the incident, British tabloid the Sunday Express named him as Wang Weilin, a 19-year-old student; however, the veracity of this claim is dubious. Numerous rumours have sprung up as to the man's identity and current whereabouts, but none are backed by hard evidence.
There are several conflicting stories about what happened to him after the demonstration. In a speech to the President's Club in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn — former deputy special assistant to President of the United States Richard Nixon — reported that he was executed 14 days later; other sources say he was killed by firing squad a few months after the Tiananmen Square protests. In Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong writes that the man is still alive and is hiding in mainland China.
An eyewitness account of the event published in October 2005 by Charlie Cole, a contract photographer for Newsweek magazine at the time, states that the man was arrested on the spot by the Public Security Bureau.
The People's Republic of China government made few statements about the incident or the person involved. In a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters, then-CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin was asked what became of the man. Jiang replied "I think never killed."
A June 2006 article in the Hong Kong Apple Daily stated that the man is now residing in Taiwan.
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