Behind the camera: Zhang Zhenshi (1914 – 1992) was a famous effigy painter and outstanding fine art educator in China Where: China Photo Summary: A painting of Chairman Mao. The original painting stands 91cm high and 68cm wide Picture Taken: Was created for the 1950 anniversary, the first anniversary, of the Communists take over of mainland China
The Communist Party of China after taking control of mainland China began at once building a personality cult around the Communist leader, Chairman Mao. His image appeared all over the country but it was this image created on the first anniversary, in 1949, of the Communists take over of mainland China that became the most reproduced image of Mao.
Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was a Chinese communist leader who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory against the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese Civil War. The 20-year long civil war technically ended when Mao’s forces captured all of mainland China on which the CPC established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, in Beijing. The CPC is technically still at war with nationalist forces who retreated to and still remain on the island of Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC). Both Taiwan and mainland China declare that they are the real China.
Mao leadership remains a controversial subject. Many see his rule as a great revolutionary leader who led China from a poor backward nation to world superpower. Critics point to the infamous, Great Leap Forward which killed anywhere from 20 to 70 million Chinese or the Cultural Revolution which greatly disrupted the country, for almost a decade. Officials now don’t know where to stand on Mao’s rule and the official line is that his policies were 70% right and 30% wrong. The book the Evil 100 list Mao as the third most evil person in history behind Hitler and Stalin.
Portrait for Power
The original painting by Zhang Zhenshi
Over 30 painters were chosen to create portraits of Chairman Mao for the 1950 anniversary of the revolution. One of the painters, Mao’s favorite, was Zhang Zhenshi. Most of the 30 paintings have since been lost or destroyed but Zhang’s image of a solemn Mao dressed in a simple grey tunic was reproduced as a poster that was put up everywhere in China. The model for the giant image of Mao that hangs in Tiananmen Square is based on this image.
On June 3, 2006, the original painting was set to go on the auction block. The Beijing Huachen Auction Company which stated there would be no location restrictions on the portrait and that the sale would have been open to both Chinese and foreign bidders were forced to cancel the auction after a huge outcry from the Chinese public. Mao is still beloved by many Chinese and they feared that a foreign bidder would take it out of the country. Eventually, a deal was reached with the private Chinese-American owner who agreed to sell the painting to China’s National Museum. The purchase was jointly financed by the museum and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. For the auction, the painting was valued at $120,000 American dollars but the price actually paid was not disclosed.
Behind the camera: Many photographers took the same shot from different angles. The most reproduced pictures is the one shown here by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press. Other photographers who captured the scene are Charlie Cole, Stuart Franklin, and a number of TV crews Where: The street name is Cháng Ān Dà Jiē (长安大街), or ‘Great Avenue of Chang’an’ just a minute away from Tiananmen, which leads into the Forbidden City, Beijing Photo Summary: An unknown man blocks an advancing column of Chinese Type 59 tanks Picture Taken: June 5, 1989
Popularly known as the Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, this anonymous man became famous when he pictures of him standing down a column of tanks with just his shopping bag. In April 1998, the United States magazine TIME included the “Unknown Rebel” in its 100 most influential people of the 20th century. It is easily one of the most famous pictures in the world.
As shots can be heard in the background, the clip opens with a column of Chinese Type 59 tank rolling down Cháng Ān Dà Jiē (长安大街), or “Great Avenue of Chang’an” Blvd. A man, the Tank Man, wearing what appears to be a long-sleeved white dress shirt and dark pants is standing in the middle of the road. While holding his jacket in one hand and shopping bags in another, he blocks the path of the tanks. The lead tank tries to drive around him but the Tank Man blocks the tank’s path. Eventually, he jumps up on the tank and at first tries to talk with the driver and then tries to talk through the main hatch on top of the turret. He then jumps off the tank and is bundled away by people standing on the street.
PSB agents crashed through our hotel room door – Charlie Cole
In 2012 Wired.com did a series of photos of photographers and their iconic pictures, this is Jeff Widener with his famous image
The protests were sparked by the death of former Secretary-General Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, a figure that many thought as unjustly persecuted by the Chinese government. The protests grew as different groups with a wide range of issues, some opposing views, came to Tiananmen Square. The protests were extensively covered by Western journalists who were allowed into Beijing to cover the Mikhail Gorbachev visit in May. The Chinese government was split on how to deal with the protesters but eventually, the hardliners seized control of the situation and on May 20, the government declared martial law and, on the night of June 3 and the early morning of June 4, army tanks and infantry from the 27th and 28th Armies of the People’s Liberation Army were sent to take control of the city. Local army units, the 38th Army, weren’t used as the military feared they were too sympathetic to the protesters. In fact, the commander of the 38th Army Xu Qinxian refused to carry out the martial law order and was relieved of his command.
In addition to the almost 300,000 military personnel (Twice as large as the American force that overthrew the Saddam regime in Iraq) that were deployed were also members of the Public Security Bureau (PSB). The PSB is China’s branch of government that handles policing, security and social order. By early morning on June 4, the protesters had been cleared from Tiananmen Square and over the next few days, the army and the PSB brutally suppressed the students and any media caught covering the crackdown.
One of the photographers, Charlie Cole, had spent the night running from police and the military. During the crackdown, he had witnessed an armored personal carrier (APC) that had run over some protesters. The outraged protesters then attacked the vehicle pulling out its drivers, killing them, and burnt the APC. While he was trying to get back to his hotel, he was attacked by PSB men, “One of the PSB ran up to me with an electric cattle prod and hit me in the side with it. Others punched and kicked at me. They ripped my photo vest off me and took all the film I had shot that evening.” He was eventually let go and more importantly they let him keep his cameras. While in his hotel he started shooting from the balcony of a photographer friend’s room, Stuart Franklin. Stuart had a room with a balcony on the 8th floor and while Charlie was shooting on the afternoon of June 5th he saw the Tank Man stand down the column of tanks. In a BBC interview he remembers:
It was an incredible thing to do, especially in light of what had just happened with the APC machine-gunners. I couldn’t really believe it, I kept shooting in anticipation of what I felt was his certain doom.
To my amazement, the lead tank stopped, then tried to move around him but the young man cut it off again. Finally the PSB grabbed him and ran away with him. Stuart and I looked at each other in somewhat disbelief at what we had just seen and photographed.
Later, Stuart left to go to Beijing University and I stayed behind to see what else might happen. Shortly after he left, PSB agents crashed through our hotel room door. Four agents swept in and assaulted me while a few others grabbed my cameras.
Terril Jones' street view of the Tank Man, taken by Terril Jones
They ripped the film from my cameras and confiscated my passport. They then forced me to write a statement that I was photographing during martial law, which unbeknown to me carried a hefty prison sentence. They then put a guard at the door.
I had hidden the roll with the tank pictures in its plastic film can in the holding tank of the toilet. [Cole had hidden the rolls because he saw that PSB officials on the rooftops had noticed them taking pictures of the incident] When they left, I retrieved it and later made my way to AP to develop and transmit it to Newsweek in New York.
Numerous inquiries have been made by various agencies and magazines trying to uncover the young man’s identity and find out what happened to him. I’ve seen a number of accounts that name him as Wang Wei Lin, but that isn’t a certainty.
Personally I think the government most likely executed him. It would have been in the government’s interest to produce him to silence the outcry from most of the world. But, they never could. People were executed at that time for far less than what he did.
I think his action captured people’s hearts everywhere, and when the moment came his character defined the moment rather than the moment defining him. He made the image, I just took the picture. I felt honored to be there.
Charlie Cole would later die of sepsis on September 5, 2019, aged 64. He had been living in Bali, Indonesia.
In 2013 Stuart Franklin did an interview with VICE where he talked about taking his famous image:
It was all very uncertain [Stuart would get the photos out of China]. The police and security people were going from room to room in my hotel, searching for journalists and confiscating films. That atmosphere was very worrying. I remember packing my film into a box of tea that was supplied in the hotel room and asking someone who was going back to Paris to take it for me. I was left in China without my film. I wasn’t worried about it once the film was out, and I didn’t mind if I lost a couple of cameras. It wasn’t easy—we were shot at, at times—but I was lucky.
When I got back from China, I went into Michael Rand’s office at the Sunday Times Magazine. He was laying out one of my photos on the cover of the magazine, but it was another of the photos from my trip —a topless guy with his arms raised. That became equally well known for a while. The “Tank Man” picture grew in importance over time, but it didn’t actually stand out far from the body of work immediately after the event.
Who is the Tank Man?
Little is publicly known of the man’s identity and or his fate. It would have been in China’s best interest that he be brought forward as proof that he wasn’t executed but the Chinese have not been able to. This could mean any number of things including, that in the confusion following the crackdown he was either killed on the streets or arrested and executed, or perhaps the PSB never identified who he was. So basically you have two schools of thought. One that he was arrested and the other that he managed to slip away.
But I think never never killed
-Chinese General Secretary Jiang Zemin
Tank Man wasn't just standing up to a few tanks, he was staring down dozens of tanks. Photo by Stuart Franklin
The arrested side believes that the people who hustled the Tankman away were PBS agents and even if they weren’t they don’t believe that the Tankman could have slipped past security.
Reporter Charles Cole thought quite strongly that he was executed. While shooting the pictures from the hotel he noticed many Chinese agents on the rooftops who appeared to be coordinating snatch teams on the ground. Plus he witnessed a lot of public executions put on Chinese TV for people that had done far fewer offenses.
Three weeks after the protest Alfred Lee of the British tabloid, Sunday Express, broke a story where he named the Tank Man, Wang Weilin (王维林), a 19-year-old student and son of a Beijing factory worker. In Alfred’s report, he wrote that Wang Weilin’s friends had seen him on with a shaved head and paraded on state television. Recalling his story, Alfred Lee remembers getting the new from his sources in China, “These contacts were very close to what was happening at Tiananmen Square at the time. I knew that once his name had come into the public domain, the Chinese authorities wouldn’t be able to do anything to him. They couldn’t execute him. It would have brought outrage from the world.” Five days after Alfred’s story the, London Evening Standard, reported their Beijing correspondent John Passmore had come across intelligence reports that Weilin had been executed. Alfred Lee’s story has never been fully excepted by journalists or government agencies. Reporters note that Alfred wasn’t working in China at the time and that other journalists who had excellent contacts, fully fluent in Chinese were never able to confirm the story. Even John Passmore denies that he reported Wang Weilin’s execution saying that it was a mistake by the Standard that his name was used.
The slipped away side, view the people that ran out to get him as being just ordinary people who then slipped away into the crowds.
Jan Wong journalist for the Canadian paper the Globe and Mail pointed to the footage of the Tank Man being pulled away from the tanks as proof the men weren’t security agents, “If you’ve ever seen security people manhandle a Chinese citizen, they’re really brutal. They twist your arm. They make you bend over. They punch you a few times. They kick you. So to me, I think he was helped to the side of the road. He wasn’t being arrested.” Jan Wong claims that the man is alive and well hiding in communist China.
One account has him making it to Taiwan, where he worked for the National Palace Museum but other media have never been able to track him down and the Museum denies that he works there.
China follows a policy of total silence when talking about the Tiananmen Square protest and the Tank Man’s fate. Officials have only spoken about it once, in a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters. Then-CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin was asked what became of the man:
BARBARA WALTERS, ABC News: What happened to the young man?
JIANG ZEMIN: I think this young man maybe not killed by the tank.
BARBARA WALTERS: No, but did you arrest him? We heard he was arrested and executed.
JIANG ZEMIN: [through interpreter] Well, I can’t confirm whether this young man you mentioned was arrested or not.
BARBARA WALTERS: You do not know what happened to him?
JIANG ZEMIN: But I think never never killed.
BARBARA WALTERS: You think he was never killed.
JIANG ZEMIN: I think never killed.
BARBARA WALTERS: Never killed.
No one knows for certain how many people died during the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese Red Cross at first reported 2,600 killed but then under intense government pressure retracted the total. The official government body count is 241 dead, including 23 officers and soldiers, and 7,000 wounded. After the crackdown, China moved on with its economic reforms and since the protest is taboo to discuss, most young Chinese don’t even know it happened.
Behind the camera: H.S. ‘Newsreel’ Wong, also known as Wong Hai-Sheng or Wang Xiaoting. News footage was taken with Eyemo newsreel camera, this photograph was taken with his Leica camera. Where: Platform of the Shanghai South Railway Station Photo Summary: A crying baby sitting in the ruins of a bombed out train station Picture Taken: August 28, 1937
This image is in the public domain
During an aggressive bombing raid on Shanghai by the Imperial Japanese army in 1937 untold thousands of Chinese civilians died and the city was largely destroyed. Photographer H.S. “Newsreel” Wong took the iconic photo “Bloody Saturday” which has also been largely referred to as “The battle of Shanghai baby” photo. This photo went on to be voted one of the top ten pictures of the year by “Life” magazine in 1937 and in 2003 appeared in the Time-life book “100 photographs that changed the World”.
The Battle of Shanghai
In 1937 the Battle of Shanghai was the first of the twenty-two major battles to be fought between the Imperial Japanese army of the Empire of Japan and the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese war.
Although air operations commenced on the 14th of August with heavy causalities on both sides, the bloodiest period of the bombing was during the “second phase” of air operations which were conducted from August 23rd to October 26th. It was during this Second phase of combat that the “Bloody Saturday” photo was taken.
Taking the Photo
H.S. “Newsreel” Wong was a cameraman working for the Hearst Metrotone News. On August 28th, he was gathered with many other reporters and cameramen on top of the Butterfield and Swire building to take photos of a supposed incoming bombing raid. By 3 PM no aircraft had been seen so most of the reporters left. Wong remained, however, and at 4 PM 16 Japanese aircraft emerged and then bombed a group of war refugees at Shanghai’s South Station. Wong left the building and quickly took his car to the Station. According to Wong, the level of gore and death was nearly unfathomable. Walking between the bodies Wong, “noticed that [his] shoes were soaked with blood.” He immediately began filming. Wong then claims that he saw two children on the tracks with a woman he presumed was the babies’ mother. A man came and grabbed one child, moving it to the platform, this is when Wong took the iconic shot of the long child, then the man, presumably the father, returned and took the next child, all the while Wong continued shooting as another wave of Japanese aircraft closed in on the ruined area. Wong was going to take the child with him but another survivor took the children. He was never able to determine if it was a boy or a girl and he never saw them again.
Reaction to the Photo
By the end of 1937, over 140 million people had seen the still black and white image of the child at the station. The photo was used to fan Anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. It was shown to movie audiences during the new-reels and it was also in newspapers and magazines. It caused Senator George Norris to claim that the Japanese were “disgraceful, ignoble, barbarous, and cruel, even beyond the power of language to describe.”
Controversy surrounding the Photo
Another picture with brother being placed on the platform
Another picture from the series that shows another child was rescued
Immediately the Japanese called the photo a fake, and a price of 50,000 USD was placed on Wong’s head (The equivalent of US$ 760,000 in 2011). Other photos were taken by Wong at the same show another child in the frame, along with a man. Wong claims this is the man that was moving the children to safety however the Japanese insisted this was his assistant, Taguchi, arranging the children to be more pitiable and hence photogenic. Another account has it that the man in the photo is an aid worker that posed for the photo and some have even alleged that Wong somehow added smoke to the photographs to make the surrounding damage seem more extensive than it was. A secondary photo of the child exists in which the baby is on a medical stretcher being given first aid by a Chinese boy scout and although this would seem to legitimize Wong’s account it is often not included in discussions even to this day.
Wong would go on to continue reporting but due to constant death threats from the Japanese, he was forced to take his family and relocate to Hong Kong. After the war, Wong retired to Taipei, Taiwan and died of diabetes at his home at the age of 81 on March 9, 1981.