Standing in front of a column of tanks, no one around him, he was all alone with his shopping bags in his hands. He climbed on top of the tank, banged on the lid and said get out of my city, you’re not wanted here. Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, is the nickname of an anonymous man who became internationally famous when he was videotaped and photographed during the Tienanmen Square protests on 5 June 1989.
Several photographs were taken of the man, who stood in front of a column of Chinese Type 59 tanks, preventing their advance. The most widely reproduced version of the photograph was taken by Jeff Widener (Associated Press), from the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel, about half a mile (800 m) away, through a 400 mm lens. Another version was taken by photographer Stuart Franklin of Magnum Photos. His photograph has a wider field of view than Widener’s picture, showing more tanks in front of the man.
Franklin subsequently won a World Press Award for the photograph. It was featured in LIFE magazine’s “100 Photos that Changed the World” in 2003. Variations of the image were also recorded by CNN and BBC film crews, on videotape, and were transmitted across the world.
The still and motion photography of the man standing alone before a line of tanks reached international audiences practically overnight. It headlined hundreds of major newspapers and news magazines and was the lead story on countless news broadcasts around the world. In April 1998, the United States magazine TIME included the “Unknown Rebel” in its 100 most influential people of the 20th century.