The Tank Man



This is a picture that needs no caption. However, very few people know or care about the exact details of the events that transpired on June 5th, 1989. The day after Chinese troops expelled thousands of demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in Beijing (in a process that left thousands dead), the tanks returning from their mission at the Square were confronted with a lone rebel. The rebel’s identity is never revealed nor that of the commander in the lead tank who stopped.

The purely symbolic act was instantly captured on video and on cameras–whether the unknown rebel deliberated planned his protest in front of the Beijing Hotel where the press corps reside is also an equal mystery. As Time magazine wrote, “[He] may have impressed his image on the global memory more vividly, more intimately than even Sun Yat-sen did. Almost certainly he was seen in his moment of self-transcendence by more people than ever laid eyes on Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and James Joyce combined.” Video clips aired on BBC and CNN and three photos (from to bottom by Jeff Widener, AP; Charlie Cole, Newsweek; and Stuart Franklin, Magnum and Time) made sure of that.

Originally, Iconic Photos wrote (until July 2012): Although Franklin’s picture had the best vantage, it was Widener who was nominated for the Pulitzer and Cole who won World Press Photo. Franklin had been disadvantaged because he worked for a private firm (Magnum) whereas Widener (AP) and Cole (Newsweek) worked for mainstream media.  For further clarification, see New York Times and Charlie Cole’s response.

There were a fourth and a fifth photographers on the scene too. Arthur Tsang Hin Wah of Reuters and Terril Jones, an AP reporter who accidentally captured the scene unknowingly from the ground level.