Seven Seconds (More) of History

What happened in the moments after one of history's great photographs?

It was twenty years ago that a Chinese man stared down a column of tanks in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Photographs and video of the face off, beamed around the world, made the nameless, faceless, shopping-bag-carrying individual an overnight, international icon.

Just what happened to him in the following minutes, hours, and days remains a mystery.

A San Jose filmmaker, however, says he has at least solved the mystery of what happened to him in the seconds after the confrontation. Rhawn Joseph claims to have uncovered rarely seen video of the encounter, and although short in length, Joseph believes it is rich in clues.

On the 20th anniversary in Tiananmen Square, police were ready to pounce at the first sign of protest. In Hong Kong, a sea of candles flickered in the hands of tens of thousands who vented their grief and anger.

Two starkly contrasting faces of China were on display Thursday, the 20th anniversary of the military's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators -- from Beijing's rigid control in suppressing any dissent, to freewheeling Hong Kong, which enjoys freedoms all but absent on the mainland.

Tiananmen Square was blanketed by uniformed and plainclothes security officers who were ready to silence any potential demonstration, and there were few hints that the vast plaza was the epicenter of a student-led movement that was crushed on June 3-4, 1989, shocking the world.

Police barred foreign journalists from entering the square and threatened them with violence, even barring them from covering the daily raising of China's national flag.

Chinese and foreign tourists were allowed in Tiananmen as usual, although security officials appeared to outnumber visitors.

Dissidents and families of victims were confined to their homes or forced to leave Beijing, part of sweeping government efforts to prevent online debate or organized commemorations of the anniversary.

But in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, a crowd chanted slogans calling for Beijing to own up to the crackdown and release political dissidents. Organizers estimated its size at 150,000, while police put the number at 62,800.

"It is the dream of all Chinese people to have democracy!" the throng sang.

Hong Kong is one of the few places in China where the events of June 1989 are not off-limits, because the territory -- returned by the British 12 years ago -- operates under a separate political system that promises freedom of speech and other Western-style civil liberties.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us