Photographs that shook the world: Tiananmen Tank Man

 Charlie China Cole Man Demonstration Opression Protest Square Tank Tiananmen

Morning of 5th of June, 1989: the Red Army overtakes Beijing. When all protests in the city seemed to have ceased, the world witnessed an act of challenge, despair and courage from one single man, who represented an entire population on the brink of rupture and that obtained, from the commander of the tank squad, a dignified and brave answer.

The spring of 1989 saw the largest pro-democracy demonstration in the history of China's communist regime. The protests began in April amongst university students in Beijing and quickly spread throughout the nation.

During this time, the opinions of the top leaders of the country as to how to handle the rebellion were split: some defended peaceful dialogue, whilst others wanted tough repression. On June 4th, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), with 300 thousand soldiers performed a deadly assault at the students - the Chinese Communist Party's stand was clear and the protest was silenced in Beijing and the rest of the country. Once again the regime's hands were covered in blood: at least 2 000 people were killed by the PLA and the numbered of people injured and arrested was unknown.

Taken on June 5th, 1989 by Charlie Cole, from the balcony of Stuart Franklin's hotel room, this photograph was published in Newsweek and captures the moment a young, unarmed man, holding his jacket in one hand and his grocery bags on the other jumps in front of a row of tanks, that were slowly making their way into Tiananmen. The first tank, instead of running him over, tries to go around him several times, unsuccessfully. At last, the driver stops the tank and turns off its motor. That's when the young man jumps on top of it and questions the army's performance. When he climbs down the tank, he is quickly whisked to the side of the road by an unidentified group of people and disappears into the crowd.

At least two other photographers were able to capture this moment, from different angles: Stuart Franklin from Magnum was one of them.

The place where the pictures were taken is called Cháng Ān Dà Jiē or "Great Ghang'an Avenue" and leads to the Forbidden City, only a minute away from Tiananmen Square.

Part of the incident was captured on video tape:

After all these years, the names and the fates of this young rebel and other participants in the incident: the driver and commander of the tank, that defied the established power by showing solidarity and giving a bit of hope to those fighting against the hypocrisy of a government that claimed to defend "justice, liberty, equality and fraternity".


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