• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 2:01pm
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

Jonathan Smith
China is a lot freer now in 2014 than at anytime in China's history. The unfortunate event in June 4 1989 have nothing to do with freedom and more to do with idiots that know nothing about freedom and democracy. Now 25 years after the event, the actions of Deng Xiao Ping to protect the freedom and rule of law have turned out to be the right thing. In the end the majority always win.
Why did that image "shock the world"? Only because of Western press biased reporting. It was extremest demonstrators (neither the army nor students) who started the violence, stoning to death unarmed soldiers (captured live on TV) and next setting fire to a stalled army personnel carrier with petrol, burning the occupants to death. There was never any large "massacre", the word coined by journalists ( and Chinese dissidents) to hype up their stories. There was only a measured response from the military and the limited shooting which took place was only in response to violent attacks on soldiers by unruly mobs. At least 10% of those killed that night were soldiers.
I was watching this live on television at the time and Widener's tanks did not run over this man as he implies. The front tank stopped and reversed away. Widener needs to watch the full video films of this incident again because he has conveniently paused his action images on one particular frame and erased the remainder from his mind . Those tanks were only on the streets as a deterrent statement and there is not one shred of evidence that "tanks" actually fired heavy ammunition. The U.S led invasions of Middle-Eastern countries in the past decade have directly resulted in tens of thousands of innocent civilian deaths. Do you ever hear people like Widener use the word massacre to describe U.S actions. And how much money does Widener stand to make from his exhibition based on exaggeration and distorted truths?
Daniel Lee
In the US propaganda, an event 25 years ago which was a small scale rebellion that was legally and effectively put down to protect public order is still used to attack China for lack of democracy and freedom when nothing is more untrue. All this while the "Land of the Free" goes everywhere promoting conflicts and wars and slaughtering hundreds of thousands in their illegal and inhuman wars. Those that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
Daniel Lee
The June 4 event was a event that degenerated into a mindless rebellion which had to be put down. After all no society can put up with unreasonable demonstrators and criminals occupying public spaces for months and making a nuisance and being threatening. Sooner or later the army will have to move in like in Thailand just recently. Democracy cannot be rammed down someone's throat. In fact today, China is freer than the US police terrorist state.
Did the US consulate or the British consulate or both pay you for your brainless comments? 100 million of you low lifes doesn't even compare to an Edward Snowden a true decent American hero.
It is so obvious that the students demonstration in 1989 in China was a campaign funded and organized by CIA in order to overthrow the communist party of China. The aim was to turn China into the Iraq or Syria of today. Deng Xia Ping was faced with a difficult decision, by doing nothing, it would lead to the broken up of the country and by doing something, it would keep China as an integral country. Yes, the death of the students was not right. But Deng Xia Ping made the right decision. At the end of the day, the students need to bear responsibility to their actions.
Would you want China to have democracy but at the same time as poor as Philippines or as powerful as today but with less democracy. I would choose the latter.
Could you imagine what Hong Kong would be like if we have someone like Martin Lee as Chief Executive of HK? He is a foot soldier of the US Anti-Communist Machine.
Mr. Widener took a picture with a constipated mind. Didn't he notice the leading tank zigzagged around the demonstrator without making meat hash out of him?
Rewind your videotape to May 4 1970 massacre at Kent State University in the US. The students were nowhere close to the National Guards when the soldiers opened fire.
Yes, hundreds died in June 4, 1989. But absolutely, positively no student was killed in Tiananmen Square. Why don't the media stop this Big Lie?
I know, student martyrs fetch the highest propaganda value.
Every year, brainwashed Hong Kongers celebrate this myth. Why don't we substitute this 3-ring circus by another entertaining myth about Moses (or was it Charleton Heston?) parting the Red Sea?
Actually in many ways, China is even freer than the US which have become a police state with massive spying and invasion of privacy and where trillions of tax dollars are spent on illegal wars especially the War on Muslims.
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.
Whenever the West bring up the topic of June 4 1989, China should retort and demand the West to answer the following:
How many people were killed by US in the Iraq and Syria war (indirectly)?
How many black slaves were killed or abused by US white men ?
How many Red Indians in US were killed when their land were taken by US white men?
How much money and natural resources have UK stolen from it's colonies during the era of the British Empire?
How many aboriginals were killed by white men when they conquer Australia?
How many under-aged girls or boys have been raped or forced to have sex by white men in Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos during their "Pleasure" trip to these countries.
This is not to imply China have done anything wrong.
Although some of these events happened long time ago, it seems when white men committed evil deeds, they could just be swept under the carpet as if nothing had happened!
China should rev up their Propaganda machine to keep the world reminded of these awful events. Just as the Propaganda machine of CIA - The Hollywood film industries have done for US.



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