Who Was the Unknown Rebel?


This month marks the anniversary of an amazing act of nonviolent protest by a man whose name we still don’t know.

As a string of tanks - 17 or 18 in all, though you can only see a few in the pictures - rolled near Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989, this unknown man, his arms laden with shopping bags, stepped in front of them. The whole string of tanks came to a halt, though there’s an awful moment where it looks like the lead tank is going to pay no mind to the man and his quiet protest. See for yourself in this clip of the event that has only emerged in recent years:

Moments after the camera stopped rolling, he was pulled out of the way by two people in blue jackets. Some insist that they were people who meant well, pulling the man to safety. Others say it was the Public Security Bureau, hauling the young man off to certain death.

Twenty-two years later, we’re still in the dark when it comes to details of any kind. Though British tabloid Sunday Express named him “Wang Wei Lin” shortly after the incident, that seems to have been false since investigations by many different parties have failed to produce any evidence of such a man. Despite numerous attempts to get the Unknown Rebel to come forward if he’s still alive, he remains anonymous. Though this may fuel speculation that he was, in fact, executed, that may not necessarily be the case. Because any documentation of this incident is forbidden in China, the Unknown Rebel (also known as Tank Man) may not even realize that he was part of such an iconic image that captured the attention of the world.