Hope Heals: Remembering 'tank man'
By Mallory Stiles
Editor in Chief
I can’t stop thinking about a man in Beijing who stepped in front of a tank on June 5, 1989. So I am writing a column about it in hopes that I may actually be able to get some sleep.
No one knows his name or what happened to him, but he covered front pages around the world and wormed his way into my brain over 60 years later, so, needless to say, he lives on.
To give some context, this was the day after something known as the “Tiananmen Square Massacre” that occurred in Beijing, China. The death toll was estimated to be in the hundreds, if not thousands.
These were unarmed, peaceful, pro-democracy protestors, most of whom were students who were murdered in the streets. They were calling for resignations and fighting for a democracy of their own.
The next day, the man seen in the photograph is walking home from the market and decides to make a statement. He sees a convoy of tanks and just walks in front of it, groceries still in hand.
Through an audio recording and eye-witness testimony from the photographer, Jeff Widener, we know the man was hearing all sorts of screams and shots being fired, but he just stood his ground.
Without knowing his story, the man’s actions are incomprehensible. At one point, he crawled on top of the tank. The tank tried to go around him, he moved accordingly to stay in front of it. It took minutes.
It wasn’t until a few people physically dragged him back that the convoy line was allowed to continue, but the message had already been sent; they could be stopped.
One man had brought an entire army to a halt.
I like to think that he got away with it all. I like to think that he lived a full life, or even got to put those groceries away. However the blood on the street from the night before disagrees.
Widener caught the picture from the balcony of a room in a nearby hotel. He said mid-interview with Time Magazine that he still gets chills from seeing the picture today.
“… (in that moment), his statement is more important than his own life,” Widener said.
I believe that it’s possible for a memory to start a movement where some will never know what it’s like to have the freedoms of speech, press or protest. So may we choose wisely what to remember.