Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Being only 23, I don’t remember the event personally, but I have read much about it and watched news footage taken at the time. I would guess that few of my friends are well-versed in the details of what occurred during the five weeks of protest, but certainly if asked what the Tiananmen Square massacre is they would give a perfectly satisfactory answer. We’ve all seen Tank Man many times.
This, however, would not be the case in the People’s Republic of China. In a recent Frontline documentary about the 1989 protests entitled “Tiananmen Square: The Tank Man,” a documentarian interviewed four Chinese students from the prestigious University of Beijing in order to gauge their perceptions of this iconic picture. Each student was handed a copy of the photograph and then simply asked what it evoked for them. They all look profoundly confused. One asked if the photo was of a parade; others said they couldn’t say much about it without knowing the context.