Frontline: The Tank Man

Tue, 06/09/2009 - 9:30pm

Pictured: Tank man standing in front of army tanks


Credit: Charlie Cole
In the face of official silence about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing, Veteran filmmaker Antony Thomas searches to find out what became of he Tank Man. Whom was a single, unarmed man who stood his ground before a column of tanks on the Avenue of internal peace. Frontline: The Tank Man, airs Tuesday, June 9 at 9:30 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21(cable 11) and WXXI-HD (DT21.1/cable 1011).

On June 5, 1989, one day after the Chinese army's deadly crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, a single, unarmed young man stood his ground before a column of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace. Captured on film and video by Western journalists, this extraordinary confrontation became an icon for the struggle of freedom around the world.

Seventeen years later, veteran filmmaker Antony Thomas goes to China in search of "The Tank Man." Who was he? What was his fate? And what does he mean for a China that today has become a global economic powerhouse?

Thomas recounts the astounding events of the spring of 1989, when a student protest that began in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic central space of the nation, spread throughout much of the rest of China. Several weeks later, when the government sent in the army to end the demonstrations, the citizens of Beijing poured into the streets in support of the students. The demonstrations ended in a massacre on the night of June 3-4, when the government sent the troops into the city with orders to clear Tiananmen Square. Eyewitnesses recall what happened from the first shots fired in the city's outskirts, to the students' withdrawal from the square in the early hours of June 4, to the Tank Man's courageous stand the following day. From there, Thomas looks at what the Tank Man's life might be like in today's China.

The Chinese government has responded to the Tank Man’s efforts by cracking down on dissent, and on the media. The regime has managed to erase Tank Man’s image, famous throughout the world, from Chinese memory. Thomas shows the iconic picture to undergraduates at Beijing University, the nerve center of the 1989 protests; none of them recognize it. Central to the regime's struggle to control information is its filtering of the Internet, a complex undertaking that raises serious issues about the role of Western IT companies in China's censorship strategy.


This is up there in the all

This is up there in the all time amazing news footage charts. I heard recently on the news they still don't know who this man was, or what happened to him. You would think they would be able to find out. Thanks for the post.

Many of us saw this as

Many of us saw this as breaking news. Thanks to this great documentary, we can see it again. This time with interviews from people who were there and with years of reflection to draw on. Time hasn't diminished the power of that moment. Seeing Tank Man will still bring tears to your eyes. China has come a long way in regards to openness and this moment was one of the keys. If you have any interest in people's desire for freedom, then this film is a must.


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