An Anonymous Student


On the morning of June 5, an anonymous student stood in front of a line of approaching tanks. The lead tank veered to left, then the right. Each time, the young man atepped in front of it. Finally, the tank stopped moving. The young man climbed up the wheels to the cockpit. The top opened and the driver of the tank appeared. The young man climbed back down and left the street. Moments later, he was lost in the crowd.

The moment was caught on film by British photographer Stuart Franklin and distributed all over the world. That photograph became the image that most Westerners associate with the Tian An Men Square protests.

The indentity of both the student and the driver of the lead tank remain a mystery. After the incident, the young man was rumored to be Wang Weilin. He was eventually arrested and executed. But, whether it was him who stood down the line of tanks that day has never been verified. Nor was the driver of the tank ever identified. Most likely, the government stripped him of his rank and had him jailed or executed for latting the government lose face like that.

That anonymous young man has become a symbol of all the people who died in Tian An Men Square; perhaps the young man was executed as Wang was, but perhaps he remains free and out of the hands of the government. He has never come forward, so we may never know. I prefer to imagine that both he and the driver of the lead tank are.