The most shameful event in China’s recent history has a name: Tiananmen. On June 4th, 1989, the soldiers and tanks of the 27th and 28th Division of the Chinese army marched to take control of Beijing. Although the city was under the martial law since May 20th, it was still taken by student’s demonstrations asking for a faster and deeper democratic reforms. Those demonstrations had in Tian’anmen Square their most emblematic place. Chinese government has assured that no one died in the Square, which, according to witnesses, is in fact true. But it doesn’t speak about the casualties during the aproximation to the Square. The number of deaths and injureds is still a secret: it ranges from 2.600 acording to Chinese Red Cross to 200 according to some official sources or around 500 according to the USA intelligence.
In a incomprehensible mistake, the military action took place coinciding with Mikhail Gorbachev visit to the country, which had motivated an extraordinary presence of international press in Beijing. Among all of them, an Associated Press photographer called Jeff Widener took a picture that soon travelled around the world and would become in a 20th century icon: ‘the tank man’, also called ‘the unknown rebel’.
On June 5th, a few metres from Tiananmen Square, a lonely demonstrator stood in front of the tanks, stopping their march. He even climbed on top of one of them and talked to its driver, although it is not known what they talked. After half an hour, some people, maybe policemen wearing civilian clothes, took him into the crowd, where they disappeared.
There are many contradictory stories about what might had happened to him afterwards. During a conference in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn, former special assistant of Richard Nixon, said he had been executed two weeks later. Other sources assume that he was shooted a few months after the demonstrations. In 2005, Charlie Cole, Newsweek photographer at the time of the events and eye-whitness of the incident, affirmed that he had been arrested right there. The Chinese authorities have said very few about the incident. During an interview in 1992, Jiang Zemin, General Secretary of the Comunist Party, was asked about the man. He answered: “I think he was never killed”. An article published by the Hong Kong Apple Daily in 2006 maintained that the man lived in Taiwan.
On April, 1998, Time magazine included ‘the unknown rebel’ in its list of The 20th Century 100 Most Influential People.
Twenty years later, the incidents of Tiananmen Square are still a taboo in China: talking about it is considered innappropriate or even risky. The Square is patroled every 4th of June to prevent any kind of commemoration and any reference about the massacre or the demonstrations in the international press is censored. To the chinese authorities, it is as if the events had never happened. To the rest of the world, an unknown figure showed for thirty minutes what a man alone can achieve.