Twenty-five years ago today, a man stood before a column of Chinese tanks on the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests by force. In doing so, he became a symbol of courage for the rest of the world.
His name and his fate remain unknown. Some have identified the man as Wang Weilin, but lacking confirmation, he has simply become known as Tank Man.
In April 1998, Time included the "Unknown Rebel" in a feature titled Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.
I’ve been speaking to people over the course of the past week about Tank man and the events in Tiananmen Square, and a disappointing number of people are either completely unaware of who he is or recognize the images but have no sense of the context in which it was taken.
The Chinese government censors all coverage of the Tiananmen Square uprising, going so far as to block all Internet access of images, video, and reporting on the protests, but Americans have fewer excuses to forget this man and the millions of protesters who he has come to represent.
If you’ve read my first novel, Something Missing, you might know that I’ve always been interested in the idea of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and never being recognized for their courage and sacrifice.
It’s a great tragedy that a man who has become a symbol of bravery and freedom for so many and who was likely executed for doing so may never be named.
It’s an even greater tragedy if the people of the free world forget this man and the sacrifices made by him and his fellow protesters a quarter century ago.
Do me a favor:
Talk to someone about the events of Tiananmen Square today. If you don’t recall them well enough or were born after the uprising took place, read about the Tiananmen Square massacre today. Educate yourself. Then educate someone else.
We will probably never know the name of Tank Man. This breaks my heart. But we can honor him and his fellow protesters by remembering them on this day and all the days to come.