Tiananmen At 25

(c)Charlie Cole 1989

(c)Charlie Cole 1989

June 4 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests for democracy that turned violent and bloody. Charlie Cole’s image of “Tank Man” – a protestor in front of a line of T59 tanks stands a the iconic image of that day. (here’s an interesting account by Charlie, first published in 2005)

Back in 2010, during my first of two trips to China that year, I had the opportunity to visit Tiananmen. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, but was surprised with what I did.

(c)JerseyStyle Photography_Tsquare soldiers2_bw_MG_0883

I’ll admit, back in 1989, I wasn’t the most politically savy person. I was 19, I had just finished my freshman year in college and was back home for the summer, trying to get the keys to my dad’s Chevy Celebrity whenever I could. I was doing landscaping during the day, writing sports for the local paper at night and listening to Guns ‘N Roses, Van Halen and Mötley Crüe all the time.

I wasn’t watching much TV news, maybe seeing the TIME and Newsweek covers when I went to get the morning paper. Photojournalism? What was that?

By the time I made it to Beijing in 2010 – a place I never thought I’d get to – I knew much more about the time, the situation, the protests. I thought I’d find a reverential situation at Tiananmen.

That I did not find.

Yes, the square was still crowded with people. But the people were happy, smiling visitors, getting photos taken in front of Chairman Mao Zedong’s portrait, flashing the ubiquitous fore-and-middle finger V salute that many Asians do in photos.

I guess I expected more solemnity or something. The LA Times, in a recent story, said “In today’s China, there seems to be no will — and no way — for anything like a sequel to 1989.”

Maybe that’s the answer, then.

The haze over Tiananmen Square the day I was there was due to some smog, and flat winter light. It was hard to imagine the area under a haze of AK47 gunfire and crowded with Chinese military rather than tourists.

What I found was a troop of rental cops, most wearing sneakers, practicing some line-up work, and a lot of Mao kitsch.

(c)JerseyStyle Photography_TSquare_security4_bw_2010_0864

(c)JerseyStyle Photography_mao2_2010_MG_0860

Perhaps, though, I’m looking at this through the wrong lens. Perhaps Tiananmen Square IS such of photo-op for the Chinese that visit is because it represented a time when they rose up against an oppressive government. They made their voice heard, though may paid for that raising of voices in blood. The bullet holes are still there as a reminder.

(c)JerseyStyle Photography_brothers in arms2_bw_2010_0911

Of course, when I was there, I had my travel buddy Flo the Pig with me. And while I couldn’t get the Red Army guards to hold her, a sweet little girl, who spoke no English did. Her mom tugged on my sleeve and said her daughter would hold Flo.

(c)JerseyStyle Photography_TSquare_girl_flo2_012010

Flo never thought she’d get to Tiananmen Square either. Too bad Charlie Cole wasn’t on hand as well.

© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2014

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3 thoughts on “Tiananmen At 25

  1. If I can add to your “looking at this through the wrong lens” analogy….
    Viewing Tiananmen Square through the lens of the Western world, where the events of June 1989 are resolved and brought back into focus every year, will result in a different image of the place than that from a lens used by the Chinese in China. I’m not sure many young people in China are familiar with the events in the square from 1989; their lens on those events has been purposely brought out of focus, rendering any impression of those events blurry and meaningless.

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