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    • 30 years ago in early June of 1989 was the famous protests for Democracy at Tinanmen Square in Beijing, China. As one who is learning Chinese and was also born in June of 1989, the events that took place at Tiananmen Square have always intrigued me. There are several layers to this historical event that I find to be particularly interesting:

      First, there's the mystery surrounding who "Tank Man" is: The man who became a symbol of the struggle for democracy and freedom. Nobody knows who he is, what happened to him, and whether he's still alive. The same goes for the soldiers in the tanks that refused to kill him. They all have families and yet none of them have spoken out about what happened. As Jeff Widener, the photographer who took this shot said, it's as if they all disappeared like they're in the Twilight Zone. Where did they go? Why is nobody willing to say all these years later?

      Secondly, there's the story behind the photo itself. The night before, Widener was hit with bricks and all sorts of debris, suffering a concussion and a bloody nose. On top of that, his camera was badly damaged. The people at the Associated Press office in Beijing had to pry the film out of the camera in the dark room when he came back that night.

      On the day that he took the "Tank Man" photo, Widener headed to the Beijing Hotel with his reporter to scope the scene that was unfolding at Tiananmen Square. This was where all the journalists were heading to get a feel for the chaos that was starting to ensue. Widener describes it as the scariest assignment he has ever been on.

      When they reached the roof of the Beijing Hotel, Widener and his reporter were concerned they might get picked off by snipers as they looked out over the balcony. Despite this concern, they pressed on and courageously did their jobs. When they saw "Tank Man" emerge in front of the tank, the first thing Widener thought was that this guy was going to mess up his composition. He was certain he was going to be killed. Then, after waiting for a few seconds and seeing that nothing is happening, Widener decided to gamble and grab his teleconverter to put it on the lens and quickly take the shot of the century.

      Third, there's the mystery surrounding why the Chinese government doesn't own up to what happened. While some people in China are unaware of what happened, Widener gave off the impression that most people have at least a vague sense of what happened. This due to contact with places like Hong Kong and Taiwan in addition to the presence of VPNs. It's almost as if China won't admit that it happened even though they know people know. It's weird.

      Anyways, I thought on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests it would be appropriate to have a discussion about it. I also think those that are into photography would find it interesting as well. The protests are fascinating as is the story behind the famous "Tank Man" photo. So many layers!

      Note: I've provided a couple of links to some interviews with Widener below. He tells the story much better than I do.

      Tank Man: The amazing story behind THAT photo-Newsnight

      "Tank Man" photographer reflects on 30 years since Tiananmen Square

    • Fascinating, Ben. I have sometimes played the role of photojournalist so I have an idea what an incredible combination of luck and tenacity it takes to get a shot like this. It makes you wonder how many times the planets didn't align so no record was made and we never knew.

      The other day an American friend and history buff was telling me about his visit to Tiananmen Square and how his young tour guide seemed to draw a blank when he asked about what occurred there. It seemed she must not have understood his question, so he asked it a couple of different ways and he came away with the impression that either the event didn't register with her or she had to act as if it didn't occur. What would be your guess?

    • Thanks for sharing your insight into photography, Chris! I can only imagine how tough it would be to get a shot like this one!

    • As for the young tour guide, upon doing further research, it does appear as though a lot of young Chinese people (30 and under) are legitimately unaware of the brutal events that took place at Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government has done a good job at suppressing information. That all said, if she’s a regular tour guide at Tiananmen Square, my guess is she’s heard about the protests and has been instructed to act like she doesn’t know what they are if she’s asked. So, what this likely means is that her acting like she didn’t know the question was her following orders and also expressing her sincere belief that the events either never happened or have been grossly mischaracterized. So to answer your question, my guess is it would be a combination of both.

    • One interesting thing is that Hong Kong was able to honor the victims despite now being part of the People’s Republic of China. Even though they’re supposed to remain unchanged for 50 years (through 2046) as part of the agreement when the UK handed them back to China, the government has been chipping away at their freedoms. Pretty interesting that Hong Kong was able to hold the memorial services that they did. I guess it shows the government is at least to a fair extent, honoring that deal with the UK.

    • I should add I’m really glad Hong Kong was able to hold these memorial services. The bravery shown by the protesters should never be forgotten. It shows that there are a lot of brave and courageous people that want to see a better China. As for what @Chris was talking about, the fact that there’s open dialogue in Hong Kong about the protests makes it tough for the government to continue ignore what happened. Hard to keep something like that under wraps.