Few knew that the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 would produce one of the most iconic images of protest in the 20th century. Throughout the 1980’s, the ongoing struggle for political power and social justice was fierce in China, but the death of deposed Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer, would trigger a series of protests stretching from April 15th until June 4th. The demonstrations centered on exposing reforms that were deemed detrimental to the life of average Chinese citizens, but also making demands for liberal economic reform, democracy and accountability on the behalf of the current government. The government seemed caught of guard by the passionate response and jarring demands. While riots broke out in other cities, the peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square drew the eyes of the entire world.
The standing government, through military force, finally suppressed the protests, but for a brief moment even this action was weakened by the actions of one protestor. The courageous young man known as “Tank Man, stood in front of a line of tanks deployed to assist in the arrest and removal of protestors, now labeled dissidents. The action, or inaction, of one man stopped four tanks and produced a now legendary image of non-violent resistance. Although the man was swept back into the crowd after his brave stand, his identity remains a mystery. In the PBS documentary titled “The Tank Man,” filmmaker Anthony Thomas searches China to answer the questions of “Tank Man’s” fate was, who he was and what was happening in China that would produce a situation so extreme.
The Tank Man can be viewed in its entirety here, or online at PBS.