Today is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that left thousands dead, mostly young pro-democracy protesters. One of the most powerful images from that time is that of “Tank Man”, the unknown man who stood in front of a line of tanks and became the instant symbol of the pro-democracy movement. I love Pico Iyer’s description in his TIME Magazine article from 1998:
The meaning of his moment–it was no more than that–was instantly decipherable in any tongue, to any age: even the billions who cannot read and those who have never heard of Mao Zedong could follow what the “tank man” did. A small, unexceptional figure in slacks and white shirt, carrying what looks to be his shopping, posts himself before an approaching tank, with a line of 17 more tanks behind it. The tank swerves right; he, to block it, moves left. The tank swerves left; he moves right. Then this anonymous bystander clambers up onto the vehicle of war and says something to its driver, which comes down to us as: “Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you.” One lone Everyman standing up to machinery, to force, to all the massed weight of the People’s Republic–the largest nation in the world, comprising more than 1 billion people–while its all powerful leaders remain, as ever, in hiding somewhere within the bowels of the Great Hall of the People.
So here’s to you, Tank Man. I hope Chairman Mao was right when he said “I think never killed”. May you continue to be remembered and honoured through blog posts, tattoos and LEGOs.