June 04, 2007

A different kind of Panzer Ace

On 4th June 1989, 18 years ago today, the student rebellion on the "Place of Heavenly Peace" was turned bloodily down. That day and the following ones, hundreds of protesters were killed.

Symbol and hero of that day was the "Tiananamen Tank Man". He placed himself in the way of an approaching tank column. When the leading tank tried to avoid him, he jumped in its way again and again, gracefully like a ballet dancer, until the tank commander, obviously unnerved, brought his vehicle to a standstill. The young man, who was wearing shopping bags, then climbed the tank to talk to the crew. Then he was taken away by onlookers who seemed to have his best interest in mind.

That is what the brief video footage of the incident shows.

He was executed. He is in prison. His name is Wang Weilin. He is dead. He is alive and hiding. Nobody knows his name. He lives in Taiwan.

The young man who dared to stop a tank column of one of the nastiest dictatorships of the 20th century, shopping bags in hand, shoulders straight, so composed, so poised, wherever he is, that young man is China.

The image above is an Associated Press photograph, it was taken by Jeff Widener on June 5, 1989 from the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel, about half a mile away through a 400mm lens.