Sometimes a picture needs no words to describe the power of the image shown. While these photos are rare, when they come they leave an indelible mark upon anyone who sees them. Such is the impact made by this picture taken on June 5, 1989 in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. For several weeks, thousands of students had been protesting in the square. Their demands of the government were simple; they wanted democracy and an end to the corruption they saw within the communist government within China. A simple request, but no simple solution. China’s communist government had no intention of bringing about reform. They demonstrated their position by storming the square on June 5 with troops and tanks to forcibly remove the protesters. The Chinese government admits to approximately 300-400 deaths. The New York Times reported that nuber to be between 600-800, and student organizations within China claim 3,000-4,000 were killed.
But the image that tumbles down through time is that of a man whose identity and whereabouts are disputed, standing before a column of tanks, single-handedly trying to prevent them from moving toward the other students. He stands alone; solemn yet defiant. He’s not leading an army. He has no power except his own courage to stand in the face of what he felt was wrong and needed to change.
Was he successful? Some might say no. He didn’t stop the tanks from rolling into the square to perform their bloody task of removing the protesters. Instead, he was pulled away from the tanks by a crowd who feared for his life. His actions saved nobody on that day and according to a number of reports, he was also executed by the Chinese government within a few days of the massacre. Based on these facts, you could easily say that his actions, while heroic, accomplished nothing.
I disgree. This was more than an amazing photograph that chronicled an event. It speaks to the human need for freedom. It is an image of one man setting aside his fear and standing for his beliefs without concern over the price he would have to pay. And that courage is what makes him successful. The image of his bravery was broadcast around the world literally within minutes of it happening. In the twenty years that have passed since that day, that picture has not only become the defining image of the attack in Tiananmen Square, but it is inextricably connected with the fight for human rights within China and around the globe. “Tank Man” as he is sometimes called, was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. Of course, he didn’t do this for accolades or praise. While we can safely assume that he knew his actions would lead to his death, we can also assume that he never knew to what extent his moment of courage would spread throughout the world…
The martyr had become an icon.
How similar this moment must have been to a Nazarene standing in a garden, watching a mob coming for him with one of His companions marching at the front of the group. What an image that would have been – Christ in the garden, standing alone before his captors. Or picture Christ standing before the crowds: broken, beaten, stripped down with thorns adorning his brow. He is standing solemnly in the face of a hate-filled crowd, screaming for the release of a common thug and the death of the Son of God. This moment of courage was never captured on film, but its ramifications had far greater meaning for humanity than any other event in human history. Take a moment to visualize it. It is the image of one man setting aside his fear and standing for his beliefs without concern over the price he would have to pay. And in that, he too was successful. But His death isn’t the end of this story. Imagine the image of a woman with a look of amazement upon her face as she recognizes the man standing before her as teacher and her friend, the risen Christ. What an image that would have been…
The martyr had become the Savior of the world.