Twenty years ago he was the ultimate symbol of a
peaceful democratic protest that went terribly, fatally wrong: a lone
Chinese man in a simple white button-down shirt, carrying two plastic
shopping bags, staring down a column of tanks.
Tank Man — his identity has never been determined — shot to
worldwide fame that day for stopping those tanks, hours after they had
brutally crushed student-led protests on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Hundreds — possibly thousands — died in the early-hours protest on June
4, 1989, an event that still remains a forbidden topic in
Pictures of Tank Man’s courageous efforts and other information
about the crackdown are still officially censored in China. But now, 20
years on, modern technology and the wide reach of social networking
sites like Facebook are providing curious students with the information
they were previously denied.
The vast majority of Chinese youth show no outward
knowledge of what happened 20 years ago, a fact that pains the
still-mourning relatives of those who were killed.
“This is a cruel reality — young people do not know the truth,” said
Ding Zilin, a retired professor whose 17-year-old son was shot dead
that night. “The government hides the truth from children and keeps it
as a sort of forbidden zone. It isn’t taught in classrooms.”
But in the anonymity of the online world, Internet-savvy youths use
mirror sites and proxy servers to explore alternative versions of the
official history and to discuss their own frustrations with their
government’s clumsy efforts at censorship.
The Great Firewall is intended to shut out information not approved by the regime. The human will to be free is more powerful.