If you’re unfamiliar with this photo, that’s ok. For a long time, I was as well. I had always known that there was some guy who stood in front of a line of tanks in protest against the Chinese government, but I could never have imagined the magnitude of his gesture.
Though the official casualty count from the Tiananmen Square Massacre vary from as few as 200 to as many as 2,500 deaths, one thing is for certain, it was horrid. As I saw the footage I was filled with a mix of awe and fear. I was awed by the student’s courage and determination. I was enthralled in fear by how quickly and discompassionately they were mowed down.
The images brought tears to my eyes as I wondered how man could display such heartlessness. They murdered the very citizens they were sworn to protect, the very ones who had fed their hungry stomaches only days before. As the images flashed up on the screen, I found myself in the square along with them. I felt their pain and fear and desires. As I looked around, I was amazed by their strength and sacrifice. I look at the amazing feat they accomplished, and I don’t think I would have had the courage to stand with them. Then again, there are a lot of men much better than I.
Still, nothing moved me more than the actions of the tank man. As he moved out in front of the tanks, I was trembling. He waved his shopping bag so defiantly, shouting at the tanks “stop.” He desperately wanted them out of his city. The image was startling: a single man standing against the Chinese army. The square had been cleared, the students were either gone or dead, and yet even after the day’s atrocities, he still dared to defy his oppressors. His bravery took every feeling of disgust in my heart and overshadowed it with hope. He reminded me that light can shine even in the darkest of nights. It’s not necessarily what he did, but what his action represents. He is a symbol of defiance, a muted voice for freedom, a signal against everything that is base and evil.
This protestor, this everyman, this unknown… he is my hero.