The Story Behind The Famous Tank Man Photograph

During the late 1980s, the country of China was in something of an upheaval, especially in the capital city of Beijing. Most people have heard of Tiananmen Square, the area where protests broke out during the year of 1989, one that would see the government deploying its army to try and get everyone under control.

It was at this time where the famous photograph was taken; one of a man standing alone against a tank in the middle of the square. The picture has since become synonymous with courage, strength, and protesting for what’s right. Let’s look at the story behind The Tank Man, and why he was standing alone in front of one of the most powerful war machines the Chinese military had at its disposal.

Understanding The Protests

The people of China had become frustrated with the ever-expanding restrictions on their personal rights and freedoms that were instituted by the government at the time. Politicians at the time had instituted a large number of reforms over the course of the decade that had limited how capitalism worked in the country, meaning that working-class and poorer Chinese citizens faced countless financial difficulties, and poverty was on the increase. It proved too much for some, and it didn’t take long for protests to break out around the country, although it was most heavily concentrated in Beijing.

At the forefront were the students, who believed that China’s system of education did not give them the skills and tools necessary to properly integrate into the new type of economy that was now powering the country.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre

Students began to protest within the city, where they were calling for the government to give them free speech, free press, and for democracy. Although many military leaders and politicians at the time felt compassion toward the cause, those in charge viewed it as a threat, and martial law was quickly declared. The government rolled out their army in a short time, which included fully armed soldiers and tanks. Thousands of students were streaming in to join the protest, and the violence quickly began to escalate. Tiananmen Square was the epicentre of the demonstrations, which is also where the military concentrated most of their might. Before long, the army began to fire on the crowd, and it’s estimated that thousands of them were killed, while around ten thousand were incarcerated.

The Tank Man

The true identity of the Tank Man has never been established, despite dozens of in-depth investigations. When the tanks were moving down the square, he moved out in front of them and held out his hand in a stop gesture, and the tanks did stop in front of him. He quickly climbed on top of the first one, where he briefly spoke with one of the crewmembers of the vehicle. When the tanks attempted to move around him, he would quickly get in front and stop them. Not much longer, two government officials went out and removed the Tank Man from the square, and he has since vanished without a trace.

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