Performers across the world have responded to a Chinese artist’s call to pose as the iconic “tank man” to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
“Tank man” was an unidentified man who stood in front of tanks on June 5, 1989, during the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on student protesters calling for democracy.
He came to symbolise dissent, although little is known of his identity or fate after the massacre.
The artist and cartoonist Badiucao first performed the piece “One TankMan” in Australia on June 4, 2016, later encouraging people to set up their own performances under the hashtag #TankMen2018.
Performers were asked to wear a white shirt, black trousers and black shoes, carrying two Badiucao designed bags displaying political symbols.
They were then asked to stand on a chair at any time on June 4 – the anniversary of the massacre – “posing” as “tank man.”
Badiucao told HKFP: “[P]eople instantly share the understanding of the performance and organise themselves locally.”
“What I want most from this performance is that people start to realise how powerful it can be when we use new and creative ways to celebrate and memorise the spirit of 1989. And essentially that is how we can actually preserve this memory and keep the young[er] generation feel relevant to it.”
The artist also called upon women to join in, to highlight female dissidents who campaign for human rights in China.
In particular he noted Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who has been under de facto house arrest despite facing no charges, and the wives of Chinese human rights lawyers campaigning for the release of their husbands.
“Tank man shows me the maximum courage of a human being can ever have. Comparing with his extraordinary action, we still have a lot to catch up. I hope if he is alive and see the this global action, he knows he is not alone and he is not forgotten,” Badiucao said.
He told HKFP the project shows that it is not just Chinese people who care, but people all over the world: “It tells me that the passion for freedom is borderless, it is a universal value we all share as human being[s].”