Thirty Years Ago Today In Tiananmen Square

Thirty years ago today the government of the People’s Republic of China sent in the Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army to liberate the lives out of the protestors in Tiananmen Square in what is described as the massacre that ended the six weeks and six days of protests. Tomorrow, the 5th of June, will mark the thirty year anniversary of the iconic images of Tank Man, the Chinese citizen, holding a shopping bag in each hand, who braved a column of tanks trying to roll to and through Tiananmen Square.

The BBC has done an excellent job in its coverage of the anniversaries of these events. I’d like to highlight two different videos they’ve done. The first focuses on Wang Zhixin, one of the leaders of the student protests in Tiananmen Square as he returns there for the first time in thirty years.

The second focuses on the coercive power of states, especially single party, authoritarian states, to leverage information and the control over it to propagandize, indoctrinate, and/or intimidate its own citizenry.

I’ll end with the iconic video showing images of true resistance and real bravery. Video of Tank Man, which had to be smuggled out of China. Tank Man’s actual name is Wang Weilin. He was a 19 year old student when he stood down the column of tanks. His whereabouts and ultimate fate have been unknown for thirty years!

Open thread!



33 replies
  1. 1
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    I was living in Hong Kong when this happened. We were getting live feeds of the crackdown in Beijing as it happened, until the Chinese government shut communications down. People were faxing news reports from Hong Kong back into China to inform people there of what was going on, until the Chinese government shut the phone lines down. I can barely watch the clips without being overwhelmed with grief. It was a terrible time.

  2. 2
    NotMax says:

    Will point to the morning thread comment on this, as it also includes info about Twitter and Apple kowtowing to the government of China ahead of the anniversary date.

    Also an article which includes a profile of Fang Zheng, who lost both legs when other tanks didn’t halt.

    Thirty years later, Fang Zheng wonders why the tanks stopped for that man, but rolled right over him as he and other students soberly retreated west along Changan Avenue after leaving Tiananmen Square in the early hours of that fateful day.

    He remembers his trouser leg getting trapped in the tank’s caterpillar track and the feeling of being dragged along the ground before he managed to wrench himself free. He remembers looking at the mangled bone and blood of his crushed legs.

    “I just want to know the truth,” he said in a recent interview.
    Fang was finally able to leave China to settle in San Francisco in 2009. The government version of his story was that he lost his legs in a “traffic accident.”

  3. 3
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I was in Grafenwoehr, so I basically missed it all in real time.

  4. 4
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: 4-27 FA? Iron Thunder?

  5. 5
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: My now ex-in laws were visiting us at the time and had mingled with the students in Tienanmen Square a few days before the crackdown. It had been a heady, hopeful time – somewhat analogous in feeling to the Polish Solidarity movement – and, while we didn’t have illusions about the kindheartedness of the Chinese government, I don’t think any (many) of us anticipated such a brutal response. It was like Hungary in 1956. The tanks rolled in and crushed.

  6. 6
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: 4-27 was the MLRS battalion in my brigade. My battery was there on one of those rent a howitzer deals.

  7. 7
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @O. Felix Culpa: I was still in Germany a few months later when the Warsaw Pact imploded peacefully. It occurs to me that I have actually been living in interesting times for my whole life (I was born the day after the Gulf of Tonkin incident).

  8. 8
    Martin says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Here’s your first million: Uber for Howitzers.

  9. 9

    I was planning a trip to China at the time. I decided not to go after Tiananmen.

    Last year I was thinking about a trip to Xingyang. Then the news came out about the concentration camps.

    I should probably not ever think about going to China.

  10. 10
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    @O. Felix Culpa: What was even worse was the erasure of memory that the Chinese government began immediately. I had never witnessed an event more or less live and then witnessed its denial in real time. And, appallingly, it largely worked! I wasn’t terribly clued into American politics at the time (no internet yet and I was busy raising children), but as I recall the Bush administration was somewhat complicit with the erasure of memory. At minimum it was not a beacon of liberty or active voice for the murdered and imprisoned students.

  11. 11
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: No one ever washes a rented howitzer before returning it to the rental agency.

  12. 12
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Can we get you interested in a visit to Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee right around the elections next year?//

  13. 13
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Was in grad school at York University when the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. Unfortunately China is still an autocratic state so it doesn’t appear as if anything much has changed.

  14. 14
    Jay says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Or rewinds them.

    I joined the protests with a bunch of my friends and family at the time, at the Chinese Embassy in Vancouver.

    Now, with Russian/UAE/Egyptian/Sawdi backing the Sudan Spring is being crushed.

  15. 15
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Yes you have, and see how you ended up. :)

    I was born shortly before the Hungarian Revolution. My dad was a G.I. stationed in Germany at the time. Apparently Radio Free Europe encouraged the Hungarians to rebel and promised American help, which of course never came. My mother told me my father wept at the betrayal by our government. So I too have been born into and shaped by interesting times.

  16. 16

    @Adam L Silverman: We already have concentration camps in Texas.

  17. 17
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I am all too aware.

  18. 18
    Jay says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    The bite of the Sawdi scorpion is global.

  19. 19
    M31 says:

    over on LGM someone posted a wide shot of the tank man image–it’s even more amazing than the usual one you see; that is a LOT of tanks

    tank man

  20. 20
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    Popping back in to say that the BBC guy is an idiot for putting people at risk with his tank man questions.

  21. 21
    Aleta says:

    I was living where there was a lot of coverage and information about the student organizing and protests, starting sometime in 1986 through 1987-88 until June 89. The whole time watching, we were waiting with fear and awe while the back and forth continued. The government responses were terrifying and the protestors’ dedication just did not stop. The strong organization and the bravery of the movement were inspiring — it kept moving forward, but I also remember how the hope could never be separated from dread during those years. The leaders were so intelligent. Fortunately some made it out and a few are said to be working near by universities in the US and Europe.

  22. 22
    oatler. says:

    Everything we buy is made in China, so , yes, they did succeed in erasing it.

  23. 23
    eemom says:


    No, it’s just that “we” don’t give a shit.

  24. 24
    Mike in NC says:

    I reported for two weeks reserve duty at the Naval War College when this happened. The next time I did so was a week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Talk about timing!

  25. 25
    Montanareddog says:

    OT: I am in Brussels for work and was woken at 05:45 this morning by a helicopter circling low overhead for the next 45 minutes.

    Bit early for riots or RTAs. Was wondering if it is anything to do with the President’s low-quality nepotism hire being in town to discuss his Kushnerfuck of a peace “plan” with the EU. No news of any other “VIPs” being in town.

  26. 26
    Jay says:


    Some do, some don’t, some can’t afford it.

    A 30 year economic policy of offshoring, undereducating, infrastructure neglect, union busting, capital flight, tax cuts, white collar crime, wage stagnation has had it’s inevitable results.

    It’s gonna be a BYD, not a Tesla, but you might be able to still take an Uber someplace, maybe.

  27. 27
    Jay says:


    Not a NASCAR fan?

  28. 28
    Jay says:

    “Tennessee DA under fire for saying he won’t enforce domestic violence law for gays

    In a video from 2018, Craig Northcott said of same-sex domestic violence cases: “There’s no marriage to protect, so I don’t prosecute them.”

  29. 29
    Jay says:

    “The Department of Energy approved the transfer of nuclear information from U.S. companies to Saudi Arabia seven times under President Trump, including twice after the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government, according to a statement from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).”

  30. 30
    Jay says:

    “This story makes no sense. Kushner and others had wanted a more intimate contact with Putin, and Dimitriev was obviously close to him in a way that Kislyak was not. So they had two breakthroughs in making direct contact with Dimitriev, one via the Seychelles and one via Gerson, and they are alleged to have thrown both of them away.

    That the Trump-Russia new relationship had some importance is clear. For instance, Trump removed sanctions from Russia’s Rusal aluminum corporation, and it promptly invested $200 million in an aluminum plant in Kentucky, to help Mitch McConnell get reelected.

    Moreover, that the Seychelles cast of characters were not a one-off and that these links continued to be in play is easy to demonstrate.

    The June 5, 2017, plot to blockade and isolate Qatar has the same cast of characters as the Seychelles meeting: Mohammed bin Zayed, Elliot Broidy (who funded anti-Qatar propaganda), Jared Kushner, Donald Trump.

    I think this plot against Qatar was essentially a bank robbery, and I suspect everyone involved believed they would get a cut of Qatar’s $400 bn sovereign wealth fund if the Al Thani dynasty could be overthrown and Qatar could be annexed by Saudi Arabia or the UAE. There was probably a bone saw involved somewhere.”

  31. 31
    MobiusKlein says:

    What is the source of Tank Man’s name? Seems there is no consensus about it.

  32. 32
    Aussiemarg says:

    I was in Beijing in 2008 working with a group of local 20 somethings. I mentioned tank man and to a person they had no idea what I was talking about. Several of them came back to my hotel where, via VPN, I could access the films and images. They were shocked…they had never heard or seen anything about it.

  33. 33
    The Moar You Know says:

    I was planning a trip to China at the time. I decided not to go after Tiananmen.

    Last year I was thinking about a trip to Xingyang. Then the news came out about the concentration camps.

    I should probably not ever think about going to China.

    @Cheryl Rofer: I went in 1997, another lifetime ago, pre-government job, pre-clearance. Certainly wouldn’t and can’t go now.

    If you can’t go on a business visa and have some sort of business contacts there is really no point. You’ll get nothing but the official government-approved tour. Me, I had a business visa and was doing legit business there. I got my worldview pretty seriously adjusted.

    I was in Beijing in 2008 working with a group of local 20 somethings. I mentioned tank man and to a person they had no idea what I was talking about. Several of them came back to my hotel where, via VPN, I could access the films and images. They were shocked…they had never heard or seen anything about it.

    @Aussiemarg: You put every one of their lives in danger. And yours. Did you think a VPN can’t be broken? Do you think they don’t track what foreigners do, what contacts they have with locals?

    Christ I hope you’re lying. That kind of horseshit gets people killed.

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