June 5: A Day For Tank Man and Reimagining History

The China Girls

Jeff Widener, AP Jeff Widener, AP

Also known as the “Unknown Rebel,” Tank Man is the nameless protagonist of a stand off with a column of Type 59 Chinese tanks.  His stance, encapsulated in time on Beijing’s Changan Avenue, is determined. He is slight, wiry in the tradition of a wushu hero perhaps. We’ll never know his face: only the set of his shoulders, and his angry strides.

Tank Man is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, and of course one of the ones most closely associated with the Tiananmen Square Massacre. All over the Internet I’ve seen people attributing the image to June 4th: as if he stood at the front of the Square while the tanks rolled in. Actually, June 5th is his day. And I think it’s important that we remember the distinction. Why? Because June 5th was the day of bald-faced, daylight violence. It was the…

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