The man who captured the spirit of the 1989 pro-democracy movement by stopping a column of tanks has vanished.
An Associated Press photograph and television pictures showed the man, in a white shirt, standing defiantly before the tanks near Tian An Men Square on June 5. The pictures appeared around the world and became a symbol of the pro-democracy protests.
Some Chinese sources believe it is almost certain that the young man was arrested and executed soon afterward. A London newspaper, the Sunday Express, identified him last June as Wang Weilin, a 19-year-old student, and quoted Wang’s friends as expressing fears that he was put to death.
No other foreign news agency or human rights organization has been able to identify the man or obtain hard evidence of what happened to him. Some expressed doubts about the name Wang Weilin.
After stopping the column, the man climbed onto the turret of the lead tank and pleaded with the soldiers to turn back and stop killing people. Ultimately, bystanders led him away and he disappeared into the crowd. The tanks continued on their way.
Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin said in a May 2 interview with ABC Television that the dramatic pictures illustrated the army’s restraint.
He said the pictures showed tank drivers would not run down a citizen and proved the allegations of tanks crushing demonstrators were lies.
Jiang said he could not confirm whether the man was arrested. When asked whether the young man had been executed, Jiang replied in English: “I think never, never killed.”