15 Years


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.