We continue our series of "Featured Rascals," considering those who have had the courage to be different in order to make a difference, the character to become a character, and original enough to stand for truth and justice. I am sure everyone remembers this one.
The protests had gone on for seven weeks. What began as mourning for the loss of a national leader, Hu Yaobang, grew into a gigantic demonstration known to the world as the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. Yaobang had been a popular figure among students and intellectuals, standing for the concepts of free markets and democracy in a communist nation. At one point at the peak, the demonstrations were attended by more than one million people.
Having seen enough, the Chinese government addressed the situation by sending in the military. Throughout the course of dispelling the demonstrators, many people were killed and arrested. An unknown number of others were later rounded up and executed. In the typical fashion of tyrannical regimes, the outside world has no complete set of confirmed facts regarding the total killed, their names, or the charges against them. There is not even any information about the most famous man of the incident, the "Tank Man." All we know about him is what was shown through the camera lenses of reporters on the scene, who had to smuggle their film out of the country before what happened could be seen by the outside world.
On June 4, 1989, as a distant line of armored tanks made their way through the square, just days after other tanks had been seen driving over cars and crushing civilians, one man stood fast. He held a bag of some sort in each hand, and aligned himself with the obvious path of the oncoming tanks. As the tanks reached him they stopped. For a moment a silent stand-off ensued. Then, the man climbed up onto the tank and appeared to be attempting to talk to those inside. At one point, a man inside the tank stuck his head out of the top hatch and spoke to the protester. A moment later, as the tanks started to roll away, the man again placed himself in front of them. Another stand-off ensued. This time, men in blue uniforms emerged from a crowd of onlookers and took the protester away. There are no confirmed reports of what happened next, although rumors are rampant. The Chinese government has never been able to produce the man, and claims to be unable to state whether or not he was executed.
Although so little is known about this man, there is a lot that we do know. We know he was courageous. We know he believed strongly in stopping the tanks that represented a repressive government. We know he used a non-violent method to do it. And we know that his example ignited the enthusiasm of Rascals around the world for the concept of freedom from tyranny. The Tank Man, as he has been called, became an international symbol of the small standing up to the big, of the oppressed standing up to the bully, and of the defiant standing up to the enslaver. We may never know exactly what motivated him, but we can all be motivated by him. We may never know what happened to him, but we know what happened to many around the world as a result of his stand. Tank Man represented the flame of justice burning inside the breasts of Rascals everywhere.