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  • Oct 1, 2014
  • Updated: 10:46pm
Tiananmen Square crackdown
NewsHong Kong

'Many have forgotten the brief moment China was free', says Tiananmen 'tank man' photographer

Photographer behind 'Tank Man' image will attend Victoria Park vigil in show of remembrance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 8:33am

The American photographer who took the iconic picture of a lone man confronting four tanks near Tiananmen Square during the June 4 crackdown will attend the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the disaster's 25th anniversary.

"More and more young people around the world have forgotten what happened in 1989 when, for a very short moment, one of the largest communist countries in the world was free," Jeff Widener told the Post.

"I want to [witness 300,000 Hongkongers] make a statement that 'Tank Man' and all those who died for their cause have not been forgotten."

Widener's picture captured a lone man - commonly identified as Wang Weilin - stood unmoving in the path of four oncoming tanks.

The picture, taken on the morning of June 4, shocked the world.

But taking it required far more than simply pressing the shutter button - it took courage and the help of equally brave people.

Despite the gunfire, Widener, a picture editor with the Associated Press at the time, headed to the Beijing Hotel, reasoning that it would offer the best vantage point of the occupied Tiananmen Square.

"At that moment, all I wanted to do was run and hide, but I knew I had no choice but to do what my job required," he recalled. "I was scared to death."

An American college student named Kirk Martsen led him into the hotel, which was guarded by security.

"I said 'Hi Joe, where you been?' And then I whispered, 'I am from Associated Press, can I come up to your room?'," Widener said.

The balcony of Martsen's sixth-floor room was where Widener took the photo that has since become a piece of history.

Less well-known is that the student was also responsible for the film Widener used.

"I ran out of film. I asked Kirk if he could try to get me some more," Widener recalled. "After about two hours, Kirk returned with one roll of 100 ISO Fuji film. He had to convince a tourist in the deserted lobby to give it up."

Martsen also smuggled Widener's images out of the hotel. The student stuffed the rolls of film in his underwear and cycled over to the American embassy - which helped forward the pictures to the Associated Press newsroom, and then to the world.

Looking back, Widener said both the activists and military had made mistakes in 1989.

"Though young people were killed, soldiers died as well," he said. "The bottom line is people should have a right to decide their fate, and as long as the Beijing government denies this natural-born right of all citizens, they can never expect to sleep relaxed at night."

Widener, now a freelance photographer in Germany, is planning an exhibition in Lucca, Italy, that will highlight images of the crackdown. He will stay in Hong Kong and hold talks about his experience until June 7.



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This article is now closed to comments

Seems a lot of the comments here are coming by people tainted by the CPC to ignore what really happened. I was watching events life on TV when (luckily) in Hong Kong, I have seen the videos, the pictures. Denying what happened is typical red brain washing, accusing "foreign forces" dito. People have selective amnesia. Normally I refuse to comment on this event but what some ignorant people rant here is too much. Not that the students were right overall, that is another point. We met some of those and they were just plain naive at times. Once history will prevail.
I see that, when the topic is TAM, the need to "compare" to the US remains unabated. And now it looks like some UK references making the rounds too. That's fantastic stuff. And there's more than a week to go...so I think there will be lots more of this tu quoque "logic" in store for all of us.
Forget about who did what to whom, and who was right or wrong. Just ask yourself why, after 25 years, the CCP still can't even acknowledge that the event occurred at all. What's truly amazing to me is that an outfit like that can still attract the number of worshippers and true-believers that it has, at least as evidenced on sites like this one.
The funny thing about internet comment wars is that, more often than not, opposing opinions merely reinforce the opinions that people already have, and do little to actually erode it.
It's quite futile really, but I suppose it helps pass the time.
Marcus T Anthony
Well, now that we all agree that nothing happened in 1989 and that all foreigners are evil, can we all go back to the business of making money?
Oh, what a beautiful world...
Please don't be too sensitive about my statement on Moses parting the Red Sea. We're debating facts, something actually occurred, not myths.
Moses is a myth created by Man, a human figure without scientific and historical evidence. Neither you nor I should have to defend something that never existed, unless you claim otherwise.
Every ancient civilization, including China's, had manufactured stories about the creation of their people. I hope you don't believe that biblical figures all lived to 800 or 900 years old and our universe is only a little more 6000 years old. Should we preach superstitions and lies such as Noah's Ark -- what an eye sore at Ma Wan -- to our children?
FYI, with the best estimate for Hubble constant to date, the universe is older than what the ancients could count, 13.8 billion years give and take. To justify those stories in Old Testament, we might have to make up 300 million years as the "living example" of Methuselah's longevity!
What are you trying to say? That you don't believe the contents of the Old Testament, or something less comprehensible like the lies the CCP issue daily.
"Where is Widener's talk?" Who cares? Most likely at Foreign Correspondent's Club, the favorite place for expats and bananas to listen to their favorite English speakers badmouthing China. And with nuanced condescension, they sometimes point to our inferior Chinese authoritarian culture, customs and practices.
It's a place where like minds meet to renew, reaffirm and proselytize Western faith in democracy and freedom -- the best place to preach to the choir.
What is there in their daily sermons of democracy and freedom? Pretty much the same bumper-sticker garden variety stuff along the line of blind worship such as "Jesus Saves" and "Allahu al-Akbar".
The Communist Party was stuck between a rock and a hard place in 1989. To be fair, a lot of the commenters (particularly those who has clearly demonstrated an anti-China feeling) ought to think hard as to what they thought the Communist Party could have done in 1989 instead. Based on the history archives on the escalation of the event, the students seems determined to start a democratic revolution to overturn the government, while the Communist Party’s priority was to ensure the survival and unity of China or face the consequences of USSR later on in history. Do I agree with what the PRC government did in 1989? I can only say resolution by lethal force should only be used as a last resort when all other attempts fail.
It is undeniable that China could not have become so developed and prosperous today if she was under a democratic regime. Democracy may have worked for some countries but it is not a one-size-fit-all. Based on the principle of democracy (universal suffrage), China would have been shattered terribly amid its mass population of poverty and under-education, if she were to go with democracy nationwide back then.
People should stop chasing air or be overly-focused on the type of political systems used in different countries, because every political system has its equal share of flaws. There is no such thing as a better political system, because utopia does not exist. Human greed is what needed to be fixed, not political systems.
Marcus T Anthony
Human greed is what needed to be fixed? Well, the CCP sure nailed that one, didn't they?
Well, well, well. See you still carry the ex-colonial imperial mindset, Marcus. You must be working full time for MI6. Sorry, but HK has already gone home to motherland, don't be overly nostalgic. :)
In terms of greed, nobody can beat the Brits, can they? Opium trade is not enough, widespread police corruptions in HK under the British rule colonization of other people's territories (and talk about aggression, what a joke). Corruption and bribery are probably invented by the Brits and brought into China. Thank goodness Neil Heywood is killed or the Chinese population may still suffer the consequences of his corruption/bribery of Chinese officials.




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