The Story Behind the Iconic “Tank Man” Tiananmen Square Photo


When the Chinese military moved into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989 to forcibly remove pro-democracy protestors, an anonymous man famously decided to place himself in front of the long column of Chinese tanks that were rumbling into the area. Photos and videos of the incident were immediately published and broadcast around the world. AP photographer Jeff Widener’s “Tank Man” photo, shown above, is widely considered to be one of the most iconic photos of the 20th century.

The Wall Street Journal has put out an interesting interview with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Liu Heung-Shing, who was also an AP photographer covering the incident. Liu tells us how Widener’s photo came about:

An interesting fact was that the photographers and agency needed to protect the images from being confiscated by the government. After learning about the incident and the photographs, Liu instructed Widener to hide the film in his hotel room.

Widener then went down to the hotel lobby, found “a blonde American guy” with a ponytail and backpack, and paid the man to sneak the film past plainclothes police and to the Associated Press.

Widener’s image was published on newspapers around the world, but Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin captured an alternate photo that offers a wider view into what was going on:


Here’s some video footage of the incident that was captured in the photographs above:

TIME magazine would later name the “Unknown Rebel” (as the man came to be called) as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

(via WSJ and THEME)

Image credits: Photographs by Jeff Widener/AP and Stuart Franklin/Magnum