On June 5, 1989, the morning after the infamous crackdown/massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, tanks rumbled through the city in a show of force. Tank Man saw the tanks and decided to do something about it.
See, from mid-April to June 5, 1989, students and workers all over China protested the country’s totalitarian measures. Across the country, thousands were injured, killed, or imprisoned – and at least one is still incarcerated for arson a quarter-century later. However, the most famous protestor is still anonymous, still at-large, and still a hero of many, including me.
This scene give me chills every time I watch it for two reasons. First, Tank Man is holding shopping bags. It’s not everyday that tanks roll down the street during a grocery trip, so it’s not like he has a “tank plan” in the back of his head to guide him. He could’ve shaken his fist, yelled, run away, or done any number of things. Instead, he was gentle, he was present, and he was able to stop a column of tanks sans bullets. But Tank Man was only getting started as there was more business to which he needed to attend once the tanks stopped, leading to my second point…
He converses with the tank operators – a Tank Whisperer, so to speak. He knew that behind the iron sinew and muscle of the tank sat other everymen who were also just trying to live. Inside were men who may or may not have agreed with or cared about their orders. Tank Man tried to appeal to their common humanity and heritage to seek what was best for their people. In the end he was pulled away, but for that brief moment there was a sense of peace and connection between the government and pro-democracy demonstrators that gave hope.
Tank Man is real hero of mine because he was present, brave, gentle, and stood up for what he believed in. Moreover, he was humble – we do not know who he is and for his own safety he’d probably like it to stay that way. But I would like to thank Tank Man for being an inspiration to me and to others who are very ordinary folk who have the courage do very extraordinary things when called and the humility to walk away.
If you have a hero you’d like to thank who exemplifies Tank Man’s virtues, leave a note to him/her in the combox below.
Cover Image: “Tank Man”, Flickr User Kristin Brenemen, Flickr Creative Commons, available here.