Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 14 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/16/14

He Was the Tank Man and Wang Weilen Was His Name

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   8 comments
Message John Hawkins

While many articles have been written over the years that sift through the 1989 Tiananmen Square popular uprising, the carnage and its aftermath, including follow-up interviews with privileged Chinese dissidents lucky enough to have made it out of China alive and end up with

The Tank Man of Tiananmen Square, 1989.
The Tank Man of Tiananmen Square, 1989.
(Image by Harald Groven)
  Details   DMCA
teaching posts at prestigious American universities (Academe is where we send all the Lefties we want to control), little, if any, follow-up has ever been done on the two most important figures at the focus point of that famous image of a man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square. The fact is, that dissident was facing down another human being at the controls of that tank: the tank had no 'free will'; it did not make the decision to stop instead of crushing the man with the satchel; a person inside the tank said, "No," and that should not be forgotten, because it was as heroic a decision on his/her part as that made by the dissident.

So, who are these Little Big People? We don't know who the tank driver was. But at the time of the massacre, media were naming the dissident as Wang Wielen. As I wrote in a piece at the time, 'Our China Syndrome,' no one knows what became of this iconic hero, with his suitcase full of--what? Hope?--but, sadly, he's gone while the symbolism remains, as if the Moment were textual, academic, a mere sub-dialogue in the master/slave dialectic. We do know that Wang Weilen never made it to the West, and we know that none of those shiny happy intellectuals who escaped was the Tank Man.

As I've suggested in the past, you don't need cynicism to understand that there is a very good chance that the dissident and the tank driver ended up in the same prison factory together, one passing on piece work to the other in quiet solidarity. Tiananmen was never so much a "pro-democracy" demand, as it was an anti-casino capitalism plea. Everyone knows now that democracy without a Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law, is a vacuous, empty soup can; a colorful vessel without substance or sustenance.

What happened in Tiananmen Sq. in 1989 can be linked back to the collapse of the Berlin Wall earlier that same year. For 25 years, the wall had been a symbol of the face-off between capitalist-driven democracy and socialist-driven totalitarianism, and its demise signaled the end of the Cold War. It ushered in a European rejuvenation that saw free spirits come out of hibernation - and, in Vaclav Havel's case, out of jail - to challenge the world to take the next step forward toward a "global civilization" of tolerant co-existence.

But in America, though there was some sense of relief, public response to the wall's fall was rather restrained by comparison. I was living in Boston at the time and can remember most vividly that, within two weeks of the fall, the upscale Filene's department store was selling chunks of the wall as key chains, in a kind of predator's victory lap. Coming out of an era of industrial mergers, union-bashing, high unemployment and recession, most Americans did not see the correlation of the wall's fall to their own lives.

Thus, in 1991, when Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, opened a speech on the Cold War's demise with, "We won!" Americans accepted her words at face value, but there were no parades down Main Street, U.S.A. For most, capitalism during the Cold War era, had not made America "a kinder, gentler" place. They did not hear her simple exclamation for what it was - the starting pistol at a gold rush for industrialists, who saw the wall's fall as a symbol of capitalism's moral rectitude and a mandate for gleeful expansion. Fast forward, and in just a few short years, Havel's "global civilization" has been foreshortened, for commercial purposes, to "globalization."

So the events in China have to be seen in the light of the global changes taking place at the time, and which continue to hurtle toward an unknown, but clearly catastrophic future. Looking back on the events in Tiananmen and thereafter, escaped Chinese dissident Rowena He recently wrote in the Guardian,

China lost a golden opportunity for the Communist party to reform itself and start looking to Taiwan's example: Let people have free speech and press and release political prisoners and in this way civil society will be able to develop.

Yes, but last I heard, the US, the world's most exceptional democracy, refuses to even diplomatically recognize Taiwan or promote its virtues, fearing a face-off with mainland China, although American corporations sure do make a nice buck there, while the US government sees Taiwan as a key strategic military asset in 'the Asian pivot' underway. And no doubt, the US will not stop until the Great Wall has become keychained.

The capitalist 'reforms' to a communism with deep ties to ages of father-worshipping Confucianism, was bound to lead to chaos and confusion on policy levels, where age-old traditions could not possibly cope with contemporary relativism and nihilism. As He points out,

Over the years the policy has led to higher average living standards, a booming economy, and a more predominant place for China in the world -- but has also engendered enormous inequality, massive corruption, growing environmental problems and profound popular cynicism, massive expenditure on stability maintenance and now a sense of belligerence on the international stage.

But this is not just a China problem anymore. It's the new global standard among an ever-growing proportion of the global population.

In the end, whatever adrenalin rush was meant to pump up shoppers globally after the fall of the wall has long ago reached its peak and we are on the stimulus-exhaustion side of the Skinner track now. What fellow former dissident Wang Chaohua speculates, in the same Guardian article, will happen to China soon is likely to be a mirror of what will happen to the world. She writes,

China will have some really crushing moment in the next five or 10 years. I don't think the party can reform itself. It has become such an entangled web of interests; you can't get it working no matter how great a leader is parachuted in at the top. So it would be more likely that a sudden incident or economic crisis would cause a catastrophic moment. The outcome of that is very difficult to predict.[my emphasis]

So true. But while we wait for some comet-ary to write the end to human history the way it was done for dinosaurs, allow me to raise a glass of tears to Wang Weilen and the courageous tank driver, who, together, demonstrated on that day that humanity is more than the trumped up fanfare of images and symbols, but often comes down to one human just not wanting to hurt another human when given the choice.

Drink up. Last call. The lights are growing dim.

Rate It | View Ratings

John Hawkins Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

John Hawkins is a freelance writer from Boston. While he focuses mostly on fiction and poetry at the moment, he also writes political essays and book reviews. His work has appeared in publications in Australia, the US and the Czech Republic.

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Dys-topia, dat-topia, Utopia, meh

He Was the Tank Man and Wang Weilen Was His Name

Self-Assembling Robots Assembling Human Selves: No Dissembly Required

We Enter the Age of the Creep

The Lost Legacy of Freedom Summer

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend