June 4 is the anniversary of Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when Chinese government troops opened fire on hundreds of pro-democracy protestors—many of them students—and then went on to lock down the country, arresting survivors and expelling the foreign journalists who witnessed the bloodshed. Images of the incident were banned in China immediately after it happened, but one scene has nonetheless become internationally famous: “Tank Man,” the anonymous, insanely brave young man who dared to step in front of oncoming tanks and stop their advance.
Shot in photo and video from the balcony of a Beijing hotel by several different journalists, including Charlie Cole for Newsweek, Jeff Widener for the Associated Press, and Tsang Hin Wah of Reuters, that scene went on to become an icon of China’s spirit of resistance, in the West—and in China, among plenty of curious young Chinese with today’s VPN connections.
China remains, in some ways, on lock down; young people in China still do not learn about that day in history, all mention of the date itself has been banned from social media today and Chinese newspaper Global Times has declared, “Chinese society has reached a consensus on not debating the 1989 incident,” as Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch wrote yesterday for Quartz.
All the more reason to remember the energy that charged Tiananmen Square protestors back in 1989, before it was extinguished. Below, a few rarely-seen photos of the Tiananmen protests, paired with scenes of the same locations around Tiananmen Square today. Any tourist can now visit the massive square, but stopping to reflect too long on its history is a no-no; visitors are kept circulating by Segway-mounted security guards, and legend holds that any man holding an umbrella in dry weather is a member of the secret police.