15 Years

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For many people around my age, the end of The End of History began 15 years ago today, when the Chinese government opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square, live on CNN. The first real hero in what would turn out to be a marvelous global season for anti-communist dissent was, of course, that guy who stopped the tanks (deservedly named last December as one of our 35 heroes of freedom). But who is he, and where is he now? The L.A. Times couldn't really find out, but the search is illuminating. Sample:

In 1999, on the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin was asked what had happened to the mystery man. He responded in English, "I think never killed." Jiang said government officials conducted their own search for the protester, checking morgues, prisons and computer registers, but could not find him.

But they could get no help from Chinese citizens themselves: No one in the country has ever seen the images. In fact, no ordinary Chinese beyond the protesters and soldiers involved even knows of the standoff. Even today, Chinese can't see the famous photograph, even on the Internet. Attempts to download the picture are blocked by the government.

As an aside, one of the most haunting pieces of music I've ever heard is a bootleg concert recording of The Cure from (I believe) June 5, 1989, where a totally spooked out Robert Smith (yeah I know; redundant) does a 10-minute improv of a Chinese soldier torturing a dissident, after which the pudgy existentialist yells defiantly to the audience: "We will NEVER forget! We will NEVER forget!" Let us hope that's true.

NEXT: In The Line Of Duty

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  1. Can you get a copy of that bootleg up on the net somewhere we could hear (and maybe download to our iPods)?

  2. Good to know others were affected as dramatically as I was by the images of the crackdown.

    I remember talking with a chat room of Objectivists at one point about China's MFN status (awarded by Bush I only a year or two later), and being amazed that everyone seemed so blase about China - in fact, they kept needling *me* on why I thought our policy toward the PRC was "such an important issue". I was dumbstruck. Still am.

  3. I'll never foret that image.

    I'll also never forget watching Dan Rather stand on that roof and plead with a Chinese officer not to pull the plug on his satelite feed. I remember seeing the officer go to pull the plug anyway and then static.

  4. Robert Smith ... does a 10-minute improv of a Chinese soldier torturing a dissident, after which the pudgy existentialist yelled defiantly to the audience

    The problem with the "historical present" tense -- now overused by the Discovery Channel and professors everywhere -- is that most people who use it can't keep up with themselves, and wind up muddling the flow. Obviously Matt Welch is not exempt.

  5. I'd say tank-standoff-guy is worth at least 10 sticking-flower-into-gun-barrel-of-menacing-soldier-dudes.

    PS: Matt where did you hear this bootleg? I bet I could track it down.

  6. oh tense one -- My ancestors will be thanking you.

  7. Pavel -- My wife, a Cure freak from way back, has a copy of it back in her native country.

  8. I was always under the impression they ran him over. Chalk it up to history classes stopping at about 1946.

  9. a Cure freak

    Yeah, I know; redundant.

  10. My girlfriend actually dated one of the members of the band before me. I believe that would be a Cure superfreak.

    The thing about Cure freaks is...they mostly come out at night...mostly.

  11. >> after which the pudgy existentialist
    >> yells defiantly to the audience:
    >> "We will NEVER forget! We will NEVER forget!"

    Good thing he wasn't talking about an IRAQI soldier torturing a dissident; otherwise, it would have been forgotten before Bush could have finished the phrase "my fellow Americans..."

  12. "June 5, 1989, where a totally spooked out Robert Smith (yeah I know; redundant)"

    LOL! There was a time when they were one of my favorites.

    Are they still around?

  13. Rip,

    I was going to chime in but you said it so well.

    So here is just an atta boy. Good on ya mate.

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