Tank Man


We may never know his name, but the world honors Tank Man as a symbol of defiance. This courageous figure entered the public conscious the day after the massacre at Tiananmen Square. May he never leave it.

The Chinese government murdered as many as 10,000 pro-democracy activists during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. (The Chinese government’s official count is 200, but one might wonder why they even bother to offer a figure at all.)

On June 5th, the day following the protest’s bloody resolution, over one dozen tanks streamed out of Tiananmen Square in a neat, tidy column. They all came to a sudden halt as a single man stepped before them.

The man moved back and forth to prevent the column’s advance, and at one point climbed up onto the lead tank’s turret to speak with its driver. The man was finally pulled aside by a group of people – possibly well-wishers, who were well aware of what would likely befall him.

Nothing else is known about “Tank Man.” We don’t know his real name. We don’t know for certain if he was even Chinese. Whether he avoided identification and slipped back into obscurity or was frogmarched to a cell where he rotted for the rest of his life is unknown. (In a later interview the CPC General Secretary at the time said he believed he was never killed.)

Tank Man instantly became a symbol of resistance to government tyranny the world over – with the exception of China, where the government doesn’t like its citizens to be bothered by such symbolism. 

The beauty of Tank Man is his anonymity. He could have been anyone, but that only proves anyone can stand up to the sinister rumble of tyranny. 

Never assume that tons of oily artillery are unstoppable. Never concede that laws must go into effect before anyone other than their writers has read them. Never tolerate the explanation that your rights are an impediment to your safety. There is no such thing as inevitability, the right side of history, or the greater good. The only license a tyrant needs to do their worst is their people’s passivity.