Identity of Tank Man of Tiananmen Square remains a mystery

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Outside China he is known simply as Tank Man. Inside the country he is not known at all. No trace is to be found of the young man armed only with shopping bags who 20 years ago blocked a column of tanks rolling through Beijing. His defiance became the defining image of the student demonstrations crushed by the People’s Liberation Army.

It was on the morning of June 5 that he appeared from nowhere. A line of 18 tanks began to pull out of Tiananmen Square and drove east along the Avenue of Eternal Peace.

A day earlier, the square had been cleared of students. The provocative plaster Goddess of Democracy statue had tumbled under the tracks of a tank. After seven weeks, the Communist Party was again in control of the plaza that symbolises the heart of its power. The broad road was empty of humanity before the fearsome display of force.

Suddenly a slight figure in a white shirt and black trousers, a shopping bag in each hand, dashed out into the road and stood waiting as the tanks approached. The lead vehicle halted. It was a breathtaking standoff. The lone man stood firm. Would the tank run him down?

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