Tank Man (also known as the Unknown Protester or Unknown Rebel) is the nickname of an unidentified man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the People’s Liberation Army had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 by force. As the lead tank maneuvered to pass by the man, he repeatedly shifted his position in order to obstruct the tank’s attempted path around him. The incident was filmed and seen worldwide.
More than 25 years after the incident, there is no reliable information about the identity or fate of the man; the story of what happened to the tank crew is also unknown. There is at least one witness who has stated that ‘Tank Man’ was not the only person who had opposed the tanks during the protest. Shao Jiang was a student leader, and he said, “I witnessed a lot of the people standing up, blocking the tanks.” Tank Man is unique in that he is the only one who was photographed and videoed, with those images reaching the rest of the world.
Identity and Fate
Little is publicly known of the man’s identity or that of the commander of the lead tank. Shortly after the incident, the British tabloid the Sunday Express named him as Wang Weilin (王维林), a 19-year-old student who was later charged with “political hooliganism” and “attempting to subvert members of the People’s Liberation Army.” However, this claim has been rejected by internal Communist Party of China documents, which reported that they could not find the man, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights. One party member was quoted as saying, “We can’t find him. We got his name from journalists. We have checked through computers but can’t find him among the dead or among those in prison.” Numerous theories have sprung up as to the man’s identity and current whereabouts.