On June 5, 2015, one lone man stood down a column of Type 59 PLA main battle tanks as they left Tiananmen Square following the suppression of protests by force the night before. He is known as Tank Man.
Here’s a CNN video clip showing raw footage of Tank Man’s own protest. Note the long tank column at the 10 second mark.
The Tiananmen Square protests were a long time coming. The protest developed in mid–April 1989 as an immediate result of the death of Hu Yaobang, denounced former as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, a known liberal within the Party.
At that time, thousands of students from China University of Political Science and Law, Peking University, and Tsinghua University marched on Tiananmen Square (other protests gathered in Xian and Shanghai).
The students drafted a list of pleas and suggestions (Seven Demands) for the government:
- Affirm as correct Hu Yaobang’s views on democracy and freedom;
- Admit that the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalization had been wrong;
- Publish information on the income of state leaders and their family members;
- End the ban on privately run newspapers and stop press censorship;
- Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals’ pay;
- End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing
- Provide objective coverage of students in official media.
Through demonstrations, boycotts, hunger strikes, military crackdowns, and martial law, the confrontation between the students and government built. At 4:30pm on June 3, the order for martial law was finalized:
- The operation to quell the counterrevolutionary riot was to begin at 9:00 pm
- Military units should converge on the Square by 1:00 am on June 4 and the Square must be cleared by 6:00 am.
- No delays would be tolerated.
- No person may impede the advance of the troops enforcing martial law. The troops may act in self-defense and use any means to clear impediments.
- State media will broadcast warnings to citizens.
The morning of June 4th, at 4:00 am, lights on the Square were suddenly turned off. The government announced: “Clearance of the Square begins now. We agree with students’ request to clear the Square.” The students sang The Internationale and braced for a last stand. An officer with a loudspeaker called out “you better leave or this won’t end well.”
It didn’t, an untold number died in various confrontations.
On June 5, a lone man stood in front of a column of tanks driving out of Tiananmen Square on 5 June on Chang’an Avenue. This is Frontline’s Tank Man documentary in its entirety.
Tank Man Documentary
The government regained control in the week following. Officials responsible for organizing or condoning the protests were removed, and protest leaders were jailed.
However, the China democracy movement, although suppressed, continued. Liu Xiaobo helped write Charter 8, released 10 December 2008. The charter called for more freedom of expression, human rights, more democratic elections, for privatizing state enterprises and land and for economic liberalism. He was imprisoned on charges stemming from soliciting signatures for the Charter. Liu Xiaobo explained in a statement prepared for trial that was eventually delivered to the Nobel Prize committee:
China’s political reform […] should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable and should be interactive, from above to below and from below to above. This way causes the least cost and leads to the most effective result. I know the basic principles of political change, that orderly and controllable social change is better than one which is chaotic and out of control. The order of a bad government is better than the chaos of anarchy. So I oppose systems of government that are dictatorships or monopolies. This is not ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Opposition is not equivalent to subversion. ”—Liu Xiaobo, 9 February 2010
In an open letter to Hu Jintao, now former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Brunhild Staiger, President of the European Association for Chinese Studies questions the basis for Liu’s imprisonment.
Along these lines, President Xi Jinping announced the “China Dream” (中国梦) at the 18th National People’s Congress, that began on November 8, 2012. According to Xi, the China Dream is to realize the hopes of the Chinese people and achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
…To achieve a “moderately prosperous society” (小康社会) by 2021 (the hundredth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party founding) and a strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and modernized socialist country by 2049.
These tenets share the “path of rejuvenation’s” focus on the Century of Humiliation, the period of roughly 100 years between the First Opium War and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when foreign powers took advantage of a weak China. Core to the idea of the China Dream is that China is finally reclaiming a position of prosperity and power enjoyed before the period of national humiliation. To achieve the dream, China requires an effective government, a prosperous economy, a harmonious society, and a strong military.
And then there’s the 2010 book, The China Dream, by retired Colonel Liu Mingfu of the People’s Liberation Army. The book preceded President Xi’s party congress speech. The Wall Street Journal said of the book:
…The former professor [Colonel Liu Mingfu] at its National Defense University wrote a book of the same name [The China Dream], arguing that China should aim to surpass the U.S. as the world’s top military power and predicting a marathon contest for global dominion. The book flew off the shelves but was pulled over concerns it could damage relations with the U.S., according to people familiar with its publication.
Reuter’s excerpts Liu’s book:
“To save itself, to save the world, China must prepare to become the (world’s) helmsman.”
All but forgotten in that great nation, Tiananmen Square and all that took place must be remembered. Along with Zhao Ziyang, we must say 我們已經老了，無所謂了, “We are already old, it doesn’t matter to us anymore.” But it will matter to you.