Taiwanese Artist Creates ‘Tank Man’ Balloon for 30th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

The art work is a reenactment of the iconic photograph of a lone “tank man” protestor during the Tiananmen Square protests in China.
Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN HAYWARD

A Taiwanese artist working under the name “Shake” created a huge inflatable replica of the iconic “Tank Man” moment from the Tiananmen Square massacre and parked it outside the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, two weeks ahead of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen on June 4th.

The choice of venue is somewhat provocative because the memorial hall is a popular destination for mainland Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan. China’s despotic government strictly forbids citizens to discuss Tiananmen Square and refuses to admit how many people were killed when the government cracked down on pro-democracy activists in 1989.

For that matter, the Communist government has never disclosed what became of Tank Man, the lone man in a white shirt and black pants who stood defiantly before a column of tanks with shopping bags in his hands, instantly becoming a global symbol of resistance to tyranny. He was last seen being dragged away by Chinese soldiers after he climbed aboard the stalled tank and spoke briefly with a member of its crew.

“As a Taiwanese, I hope I can help China to also achieve democracy one day. So I think it is important to the Taiwanese people to continue discussing this topic – preventing people from forgetting this event and reminding the Taiwanese people that the regime in China is dangerous,” Shake told Reuters in an interview published Tuesday.

She complained the authoritarian government in Beijing has “washed away” the bloody oppression of Tiananmen Square, but noted the 30th anniversary will be commemorated in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Visitors posing for photos with the cartoony inflatable replicas of Tank Man and a menacing Chinese tank told Reuters they thought the exhibit was a courageous “statement against the Chinese government,” which has grown increasingly bellicose against Taiwan since the election of current President Tsai Ing-wen. Some expected Chinese visitors to pop the balloons with needles to shut the exhibit down.

The most famous photo of Tank Man was taken by American photographer Jeff Widener, a one-in-a-million snapshot taken under incredibly tense circumstances. Widener had to slip the photo to an American exchange student to get it past Chinese troops. The student smuggled the film to the U.S. embassy by stuffing it in his underwear.

The iconic Tank Man photo remains one of the most heavily censored images on the Chinese Internet, along with anything related to the Tiananmen massacre.

Chinese police arrested an independent filmmaker and political activist called Huang Huang and confiscated his equipment for merely posting a photo with a vague, coded allusion to Tiananmen Square on social media. The photo depicted a bottle of liquor labeled with the number “64.” The name of the liquor, bai ju, sounds similar to Mandarin Chinese for the number “89,” so the label plus the pun on the name of the alcohol can be interpreted as a reference to the date of the Tiananmen crackdown, 6/4/89.

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