Tiananmen Square: Australian artist leads #Tankmen2018 global protest to remember 1989 massacre
June 4 is a date all of China remembers, even if the state would rather they forget.
- Badiucao began the #Tankmen2018 global campaign to remember the Tiananmen massacre
- The student leader urges young Chinese people to use new forms to protest
- Tankwomen hold global protest aligned with #MeToo movement
It marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre where Beijing used force to suppress student protesters at Tiananmen Square.
The Tiananmen massacre, also known as the Tiananmen incident, was the Chinese Government’s violent suppression of pro-democracy protests, which lasted for several months in 1989.
The “Tankman”, a mysterious man who challenged 18 tanks, became one of the most symbolic images of the 20th century, after photographer Jeff Widener captured the scene from the balcony of a hotel room in Beijing.
This year marks the 29th anniversary, and Australian-Chinese artist Badiucao — who disguises himself out of fear of reprisals from the Chinese Government — has called on people all over the world to recreate the image using #tankmen2018.
“After all these years, we still need to bypass the censorship through various means to talk about this matter,” Badiucao told the ABC’s The World program.
“It is a shame for the country and a sin for the government.”
He also asked people to display images of Peppa Pig and Winnie the Pooh, which have been the subject of censorship in China.
He said these symbols had become the modern day image of the Tankman.
“A lot of people think this is something that happened a long time ago, but a lot of people don’t even know if it is still relevant today,” Badiucao said.
“So my temptation is engaging the Tankman figure with the most updated online resistance icons.”
The challenge has been taken up by people all over the world, including in Toronto, Washington and Canberra.
Commemorations remain forbidden in China
But, although he encourages the public to join the campaign, Badiucao suggested people living in mainland China don’t perform the Tankman in public because commemorations are still completely forbidden there.
“Today, China is still the same regime that will oppress human rights like what they did in 1989,” Badiucao said.
“So I think it’s crucial for us to remember what happened and to continue this passion and the spirit of bringing change to the society to make it more free and [create] more democracy in China.”
A few days ago, Guo Yi, Chen Siming and He Jiawei were reportedly imprisoned in Zhuzhou city detention centre for holding signs in front of a tank to commemorate the massacre.
Social media users are also not allowed to change headshots or their alias on WeChat, due to system maintenance — the same maintenance that reportedly happens every year.
In Beijing, the metro at Muxidi Station has been closed since 1:00pm on June 3, where the most violence happened, according to claims by many witnesses.
Although they can not commemorate the anniversary in public or online, the country has been deeply affected over the last 29 years.
One-hundred-and-twenty-eight Tiananmen Mothers, who lost their children in the massacre, published an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, detailing how their lives were torn apart.
“For over 29 years, no Government official has ever greeted the family members or said sorry to them,” they wrote.
“The massacre that startled the world seemed never to have happened.”
Chinese people protest in Toronto, calling for Chinese authorities to release Liu Xia and Wang Quanzhang. (Supplied)
‘A sip of freedom at that historical moment’: Zhou
One of the 21 student leaders wanted by the Chinese Government after the massacre, Zhou Fengsuo, who is known as the founder of the student movement’s radio station at Tiananmen Square, participated in this year’s memorial in Washington.
Mr Zhou was a physics student at Tsinghua University but was exposed to the police unexpectedly while his sister tried to find him in the days after the massacre.
He was jailed for a year and went to the United States a few years after his release.
“The democratic movement in 1989 was a celebration of freedom because the Chinese enjoyed a sip of freedom at that historical moment,” Mr Zhou said.
Twenty-nine years later, Mr Zhou said June 4 was the darkest day in modern Chinese history.
He said he hoped more people would commemorate the Tiananmen massacre in their own way, like Badiucao.
Zhou Fengsuo was one of the 21 student leaders wanted by the Chinese Government after the massacre. (Supplied: Zhou Fengsuo)
A symbol for more than just Tiananmen
However, the Chinese Government’s brutal censorship means younger generations have no access to information about this part of history, while they are bombarded with propaganda and told about the development of society.
This has inspired Badiucao to try various ways to publicise the Tankman icon without being censored, including getting Tankwomen to support Liu Xia, the widow of activist Liu Xiaobo, China’s unrecognised first Nobel Prize winner who died last year, and the Chinese #MeToo campaign.
Jade Dussart, 26, an activist who also works for a human rights NGO in Paris, performed as a “Tankwoman” on the streets of Paris on Monday.
Jade Dussart is among those performing the “Tankwoman” on the streets of Paris. (Supplied: Jade Dussart)
She said she learnt about the Tankman in a history book in high school, and the image of Tankman immediately came to her mind when she visited Tiananmen Square in 2012.
“Women who dared to speak up about sexual harassment, assault, everyday sexism are modern day’s Tankwomen … We also need to celebrate the figure of female activists around the world,” Ms Dussart said.
She said she believed Tankmen 2018 was a non-violent way to fight for fairness and people should use all possible forms of pressure to force the Chinese Government to respect its international commitments to human rights.
This week, people performed in Canberra, Sydney, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Washington, Auckland and Toronto in memory of the tragedy.
Tankmen and Tankwomen wore white shirts and black pants while holding two white bags to remind people of this iconic figure.
And various memes of political satire have been circulating on the internet in China.
Tens of thousands of people attend an annual candlelight vigil at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. (AP: Kin Cheung)
For example, it has been suggested that Winnie the Pooh and Peppa Pig are printed on the bags carried by the Tankmen performers.
In Hong Kong, as part of the memorial events, tens of thousands of people marched against the Chinese Government’s actions.
In Taiwan, it was announced that a sculpture commemorating Liu Xiaobo would be unveiled in the Taipei 101 skyscraper next month.
With the 30th anniversary next year, Badiucao said he would be preparing another form of protest to keep his message about democracy and censorship in China alive.