Where Are They Now: Tiananmen Square Tank Man


THE Tiananmen Square massacre in the Summer of 1989 is an event which remains shrouded in mystery, as the state-run media agencies in China suppressed as much information about the incidents that led to the Chinese army marching on protesting students in Beijing, firing on unarmed students and generating a death toll which to this day has yet to be assigned a confirmed figure.

But one image did manage to make an indelible mark on spectators across the world: the moment when an unarmed man walked out in front of a column of tanks as they made their way to the heart of the clash, and bravely faced down the might of the red army with nothing more than what appear to be a pair of plastic shopping bags. Shot from the rooftop of a nearby building, the picture appeared on the front page of virtually every newspaper in the world, and remains one of the most striking images ever captured on film.

Such was the iron grip with which China ruled it’s media at the time, very little information about “Tank man” was ever made public: investigative journalists could not source the man’s name, age, or eventual fate after his brave stand. It’s not until recently that our correspondent in China became the first journalist to track the man, now in his seventies, down to his home outside Beijing.

“I’d been having a fucking shocker of a day altogether,” said Jiang Ziyang, looking out over his balcony at the city which has been his home all his life.

“Oh man, just one of those days. Traffic was brutal in the city with the students protesting and the martial law and all that, so you couldn’t drive anywhere and none of the buses were running. Plus my wife at the time had been giving me shit all day because there wasn’t a bit of shopping in the house, as if the student revolt against the political system at the time was somehow my fucking fault”.

In a bid to get out of the house, Ziyang offered to head to the shops and pick up a few groceries. Thinking that the fresh air would do him good and settle his head, the 42-year-old accountant set off on a journey that would cement his place in history.

“I had to walk four fucking miles to get a Shop open, and got jostled by crowds of cops and protesters the whole way” moaned Yizang, while eating a pear.

“I was fit to be tied on the way back, and then I round the corner and there’s a stack of pricks in tanks coming up the road… that was it. I stood my ground and roared at them, I said ‘and you lot can fuck off an’ all!'”.

It’s this tense standoff, the dialogue of which is only coming to light now, that was recorded in the infamous “tank man” footage.

“One of the soldiers, he was only about 19, lifted the hatch of the tank and told me to move. I said ‘no, cunt, YOU move'”, the septuagenarian tells us, becoming visibly annoyed at the memory.

“Little prick in his tank, I told him where to go. At this stage I could have walked on, but didn’t. I was too mad. I stood there and wouldn’t let them by, no matter how much they tried to get around me. I remember yelling at him to have respect for his elders, or I’d drag him into the street and kick the ever living shite out of him”.

At this point, Zihang was escorted to the side of the road by armed guards. Many people believed for years that “tank man” may have been quietly executed by police, or thrown in jail for life, but he tells us that the cops simply held him until the tanks had passed, at which point he went on his way.

“When I got home, my wife asked me where were the bin bags she asked me to get in the shop, and I had to admit that I had totally forgotten them”, said Zihang, solemnly.

“At that point, I remember thinking I would have been better off if the tanks had driven over me”.