Have you ever had the feeling that you alone cannot change the world and that whatever you do doesn’t make any difference? Well, let us tell you a story of a single brave person that decided that he had enough and did the unthinkable. On June 5, 1989, a man in China, caring shopping bags, stepped out to confront a column of tanks, forcing them to stop (3). He climbed on the first tank and spoke to the crew. When the tanks tried to drive around him, he stepped into their way. Ultimately, the man, later to be known as Tank-Man, was carried away by civilian-dressed men.

Until today, it is still not clear who the Tank-Man was and what eventually happened to him (1). Nevertheless, we want to honor this symbol of resistance. The picture inspiring the Tank-Man design is probably one of the most famous resistance photos that exist. It was taken by Jeff Widner on June 5, 1989. Times Magazine declared it one of the most important pictures of the 20th century (1).

Courtesy to Jeff Widner (1989, June 5).

What happened?

1989 was surely one of the most eventful years of the century. A wave of (counter)-revolutions swept across the so-called Eastern Bloc (4). In Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, the Communist Leaderships were overthrown and in Germany, the Border between East and West Germany opened. The USA invaded Panama and the Soviets withdrew their troops from Afghanistan. The whole world was in turmoil.

With worried eyes, the communist party of China observed the events in Europe. Gorbachev’s new political movement “Perestroika” (restructuring) and “Glasnost” (openness) had evoked the hope of a more “open” and “democratic” China, especially in the hearts of the intellectual elite and the students (2, 5, 6). This was further fuelled by the decision of China’s leader Deng Xiaoping to allow private companies as well as foreign investment (in the 1980s) (5). This decision backfired, increasing corruption on the one hand while raising the hopes for greater political openness on the other. The party itself was divided by those who called for rapid change and the hardliners who wanted to maintain the status quo (5).

Students started protesting in the mid-1980s. The protests became more intense in April after the death of leading politician Hu Yaobang, who was seen as relatively progressive (5). On June 4, 1989, Students were protesting on Tiananmen Square, when the Government finally had enough and sent in the army. When the military surrounded the square, clashes between them and the students broke out which resulted in the death of at least 200 civilians and several dozen security personal (according to the government (5), however, the numbers vary greatly depending on what source you look at, some sources speaking about 3000 – 4000 victims (2) while one is even speaking about 10.000 (5)). When the tanks returned from Tiananmen Square, the Tank-Man appeared and confronted them. 

What the Tank-Man teaches us is that everyone can make a difference!

You might not need to confront tanks but maybe the story of Tank-Man inspires you to take more action because every single action, irrespective of how small it is, makes a difference. So, make yourself heard, educate yourself, and let us stand together against imperialism, racism, patriarchy, antisemitism, and any other form of repression. If one man was brave enough to confront several tanks, we surely will be able to do our part in making this world a better place.


Yǒngyuǎn tuánjié!


  1. Dunleavy, B. (2018). Who was the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square? History.com. Retrieved on July 7, 2020 from: https://www.history.com/news/who-was-the-tank-man-of-tiananmen-square
  2. Erling, J. (2009). Wie Gorbatschow Chinas Freiheitsdrang weckte. Welt.de. Retrieved on July 7, 2020 from: https://www.welt.de/politik/article3743731/Wie-Gorbatschow-Chinas-Freiheitsdrang-weckte.html
  3. Jung, B. (2019). “Tank Man” – Die Geschichte hinter dem Foto. Tagesschau.de. Retrieved on July 7, 2020 from: https://www.tagesschau.de/faktenfinder/china-tank-man-101.html
  4. n.d. (2010). ARD-Jahresrückblick 1989. Tagesschau.de. Retrieved on July 7, 2020 from: https://www.tagesschau.de/jahresrueckblick/meldung118196.html
  5. n.d. (2019). Tiananmen Square: What happened in the protests of 1989? BBC. Retrieved on July 7, 2020 from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48445934
  6. Wikipedia.org (n.d.). Perestroika. Retrieved on July 7, 2020 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perestroika

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