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CRACKDOWN IN BEIJING; One Man Can Make a Difference: This One Jousted Briefly With Goliath

The New York Times, June 6, 1989 [Excerpt]
By James Barron

It all started with a man in a white shirt who walked into the street and raised his right hand no higher than a New Yorker hailing a taxi.

Unlike so many of the pictures from China in the last few weeks, images crowded from one edge of the frame to the other, with determined demonstrators and ambivalent soldiers, this one was powerful in its simplicity: A single man stopping a column of tanks rumbling toward Tiananmen Square.

The man stood only half as tall as the lead tank. But his body language made it clear: He wanted the slow-moving column halted, and halt it did, the huge treads on the lead tank grinding to a stop just a few feet from his face.

It was a close call -- the tank came perhaps a second or two of killing him -- and it seemed to encapsulate many of the confrontations in recent days between the citizens and the army: the touch-and-go maneuvering, with soldiers not sure when to press on and when to retreat; the determination of the demonstrators, brave and unyielding in ways that might have been unthinkable a few weeks ago. In its quiet way, this little confrontation seemed to symbolize the fragility of the Government's position. ...


Bush Calls for World to Stand With Young Man Who Braved Tanks

The Associated Press, June 5, 1989 [Excerpt]
By Tom Raum

President Bush suspended U.S. arms sales to China on Monday to protest the military's bloody weekend crackdown and called on people around the world to stand symbolically with the young Chinese demonstrator who braved a column of tanks.

"That image I think is going to be with us a long time," Bush told an evening meeting of business executives in a departure from a prepared text on education.

Earlier, at a news conference, the president declared that Chinese leaders must learn "it's not going to be business as usual" and accused the Beijing government of "brutally suppressing popular and peaceful demonstrations."

But, while announcing sanctions on military sales, Bush also said he would not withdraw the U.S. ambassador, take any other steps toward severing diplomatic ties or take abrupt actions, including economic sanctions, that could "hurt the Chinese people."

Later, Bush told an audience of the nation's top business leaders he was haunted by the "bravery of that individual that stood alone in front of the tanks rolling down the main avenue."

"What is it that gives him the courage to stand up in front of a column of tanks right there in front of the world?" Bush asked. "All I can say to him, wherever he might be, and to the people around the world is we are and we must stand with him."

Network television news broadcasts showed the remarkable confrontation of the young man, who held up a column of 18 tanks for three minutes, arguing with the crew of the lead tank. He was pushed to safety by the crowd and the tanks moved on. ...


One Man's Act of Defiance and Valor

Editorial from The Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1989

For without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men ... have lived. ... A man does what he must -- in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures -- and that is the basis of all human morality.
- John F. Kennedy

A battle tank, no matter what nationalistic symbol adorns its turret, strikes fear in the fiercest foot soldier. On the right terrain, it's a swift, menacing machine of death and destruction. On a city street, with its clanking treads and ominous guns, it's a terrifying monster, particularly to anyone standing in its path.

Yet at about noon Monday in the wounded city of Beijing, a solitary man in white shirt and dark trousers stepped in front of a column of tanks lumbering out of Tiananmen Square and brought this small part of the People's Liberation Army to a halt. For six or seven minutes, the man seemed to be talking to the tank. At times, he played a game of dodge with the steel hulk facing him. At one point, he jumped up on its front deck and pounded on its turret.

Cameras on the roof of a nearby building burned the image of that lone man into the minds of a world trying to understand the violence and bloodshed in China. His words weren't recorded, but witnesses reported that he yelled, "Why are you here? You have done nothing but create misery. My city is in chaos because of you."

At any moment, you expected the steel monster to crush the man like a bug or blow him away with a burst of fire. But before that could happen, four other men who appeared to be friends rushed into the avenue, grabbed him and hustled him off down a side street. The tank column resumed its march, perhaps to fight other units of the Chinese army that have refused to fire on the people.

Some observers said the man was too old to be a student. Perhaps he was simply like the rest of us -- outraged at seeing what a government had done to its young people who wanted nothing more than liberty and freedom. And like those students who were maimed or killed battling the tanks and troops with rocks, bottles and homemade firebombs, he wanted a red badge of courage. On this day, the man in the white shirt didn't get it, but he was no less brave.

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posted apr. 11, 2006

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