Monday, June 4, 2018

#Tankman2018: hero of Tiananmen protest remembered across globe

Chinese citizens around the world are remembering the lone man, armed with nothing more than two shopping bags, who stepped in front of a row of tanks moving down the streets of Beijing in 1989.
Better known as “Tank Man”, he is one of the most enduring images of China’s violent military crackdown on democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, known in China as liusi, or June 4th. On the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, protesters are reenacting the face-off under hashtags including #Tankman2018#Tankmen2018, a campaign started by Chinese artist and cartoonist, Badiucao. According to Badiucao, Tank Man represents “something lost in China’s young generation now — the idealism, passion, sense of responsibility, and confidence that an individual can make a change”, he said. “Tank Man is very relevant today and people should see it. Society has not changed much since the massacre for the oppression has never stopped”.

Badiucao gave instructions for protesters to take a photo of themselves wearing the “classic outfit” of Tank Man: white shirts, black pants, and black shoes, while holding two white bags. The artist made designs for the bags including images of Peppa the Pig and Winnie-the-Pooh, characters censored in China, as well as mi tu or “rice bunny” a now blocked phrase used by Chinese “#MeToo” activists.
Zhou Fengsuo, a Chinese activist who was a student leader during the 1989 protests, posted photos of himself in Washington.
In the spring of 1989, Chinese students, workers and other protesters held demonstrations and hunger strikes calling for democratic reforms. On 4 June, the movement came to a halt when more than 200,000 soldiers were deployed to end the protest, killing hundreds if not thousands of civilians. On 5 June, 1989, a man in a loose white shirt on a street near Tiananmen Square, walked out by a crosswalk in front of a column of tanks, according to film footage. As the first tank tried to move around him, he blocked its path. The tank stopped and he climbed onto it, pounding on the hatchet and appeared to speak to a soldier inside. When he climbed back down, he continued to block its way until two men ran over and pulled him out of the street. The moment was broadcast across the world and he became known as Tank Man.

Chinese authorities have justified the Tiananmen crackdown by saying the protests were instigated by “counterrevolutionaries” manipulated by foreign forces who threatened country’s stability. Mourning the victims and any discussion of the incident are still severely restricted. Every June, police maintain a heavier presence around Tiananmen Square and human rights activists are taken away from the capital. Two men in Hunan province were detained for holding signs that said “6/4 29th anniversary,” according to Radio Free Asia. Four men in Sichuan, who made a liquor called bajiuliusi, a homonym for 89.6.4 and a play on the words for liquor, baijiu, and the number 89, bajiu, have been detained since mid-2016and are still awaiting trial.

On Monday, Chinese state media and officials made no mention of the anniversary. Terms related to Tiananmen continued to be censored and WeChat users were barred from sending mobile money amounts of 89.64 or 64.89 yuan. In Hong Kong, activists will hold a candlelight vigil. Hu Xijin, editor of the state-run paper Global Times wrote on Twitter, which is banned in China, “What wasn’t achieved through a movement that year will be even more impossible to be realised by holding whiny commemorations today.”

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, urged China to “make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing”. “As Liu Xiaobo wrote.... ‘the ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest’,” Pompeo said in a statement on Sunday, referring to the Chinese dissident who had participated in the 1989 demonstrations and died last year while serving an 11-year jail sentence. The fate of Tank Man remains a mystery. Some historians say he escaped to Taiwan. Others believe that because he was never heard from again, he probably melted back into Chinese society.