Last night, we watched The Tank Man. I had never seen it and recently found it was on Netflix so I ordered it. While several years old, I still found it to be very enlightening in some regards and it certainly was news to my better half (who lived in China at the time and was completely unaware of many of the things that were shown in the documentary) as well as Mini-Me (who was exposed to something that he ordinarily would not have seen).
The events of the spring of 1989 in China, as I have pointed out in this blog previously regarding the similarly egregious Cultural Revolution, remain unexamined in China as a result of explicit refusal by the government to permit it. This inability to examine the events of that time have allowed for only the perspective of Westerners who were able to both videotape and write about their experiences and it certainly colored an entire generation both in and outside of China. In China, that generation remains unable to articulate their experiences unless they leave (with no intention of returning). In the West, that generation views China today through a lens that is still colored by the actions of a tyrannical government that willingly sacrificed its legitimacy (and I use that term loosely) through the use of battlefield weapons against its own people in order to preserve its rule.
The actions of a single man, defying the might of the state, is a defining image and has imbued many who have seen it with a strong sense of purpose and strength in terms of the relationship with the state. His willful defiance stands in contrast to the weakness of those few in power in China who chose to brutally murder their citizens instead of working to create a better society for everyone. Their fear of their own people is what precipitated the tragic events that June 3 night and, while the actions of a single man (who remains unidentified to this day) have helped to restore some pride to China, that fear continues to haunt the nation. A fear of looking in the mirror and seeing the ugliness and finding a way to address it so that the future can be made to look prettier. The reality is that China can fix the bullet holes in the buildings, repair the tire tracks from the tanks on Changan Avenue and show the world a wonderful Olympics a mere 19 years later but all of that will be a mere facade built upon a fragile framework that will threaten to collapse until it is reviewed and truly repaired. Hopefully, all Chinese will one day be able to learn the entire story of that spring as well as the truth behind the Tank Man.