Tiananmen Tank Man – Twenty Five Years

"The Great Gordino"Anniversaries of events always make good news items, so it’s no surprise to see so many of them in the news! I love writing about them, because there’s always a story to be found in them. June 2014 saw a 25th anniversary which hardly got any coverage though- Tiananmen Square…

June 4th 1989, 25 years ago. What happened that day had a huge impact back then, and it’s had a huge impact in the 25 years since, as it helped to shape the direction of what is now one of the biggest economies in the world, China.

I didn’t see much coverage of the 25th anniversary here, and there wouldn’t have been any coverage at all in China. You won’t get anywhere trying to discuss it there, and in fact there is only ever a slight acknowledgement that anything even happened, and even that is only delivered under pressure.

On June 4th 2014, the square was blocked off, journalists couldn’t get within a mile, and the generally held name of the event gives an idea as to what happened. The event is generally called the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Back in 1989 there had been a build up of public protest, initially student led, calling for greater political freedom and transparency, greater freedom of speech, greater freedoms all round.

The government had been ok to let these protests happen at first, but gradually begane to realise that not only was the big protest population on the square not going to go away, it was multiplying in other cities and bringing worldwide attention on the way the communist state was run.

The government built up a force of troops around the square, and on June 4th they opened fire.

The death toll varies, from ‘a few’, to hundreds, to thousands, but what is clear is that the government cracked down, and cracked down hard. Any government members who had been supportive of greater freedoms were purged, and the hard-line position of the government was reinstated.

"Gordon Bryan"What happened to ‘Tank Man?’

No-one really knows. Some people say he went into hiding, some people say he was taken down an alley and shot in the head. His image went around the world though, and the thoughts that image generated were not something any government could do anything about, and they knew change had to happen.

Being a single party state though, they could do it how they wanted, so freedoms were increased, but only when it suited them, capitalist business was promoted, but only when it suited them. Any hard-line processes that suited them, well they were kept.

This transformed the Chinese economy, with infra structure and business growth at unprecedented levels anywhere in the world, shooting China into the top 4 largest economies in the world.

Business follows money, and the vast amounts of money on offer with such a massive market meant that people were prepared to overlook human rights issues in favour of the profit potential, on the basis that ‘if we don’t go there, someone else will and we’ll be left behind, so we have no choice.’

Keeping on the good side of such a huge economy, despite any apparent human rights failings could well be behind the lack of coverage of the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

That doesn’t mean we can’t think about it ourselves, does it? So, think of Tiananmen 25 years ago. Think of the opportunities you have right now that millions of people around the world still do *not* have, and maybe think of Tank Man. He probably knew what he was doing would see him dead, but he did it anyway – what does the image say to you..?

Do let me know what you think, and feel free to share, like, tweet etc if you enjoyed the article – thanks!

‘Til Next Time,
Health & happiness,
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  • Hi Gordon
    Commemorations of June 4th (as it’s known here) always occur in Hong Kong and Macau, although as you say are suppressed on the mainland. Here’s a couple of links from this year you may find interesting. http://www.scmp.com/video?movideo_m=865418 June 4th 2014
    Alayna (Since 1998 I’ve been living in Macau, then mainland China and now in Hong Kong)

    • Hi Alayna,
      Interesting to hear from someone living there. I’m sort of amazed that rally was allowed in Hong Kong, and that shows the double sided coin I mentioned – on the mainland, nothing, with activists being detained before and after the anniversary, but the West puts up with that because of the business.
      Hong Kong – big rally, but the mainland government puts up with that because of the business, and the freedoms that linger from the British part of Hong Kong history.

      Thanks for those links, anyone else reading would find it interesting to take a look,