Iconic figure in Tiananmen protest remains unknown

Arguably the most recognizable photograph from the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989 is the image of a lone, unarmed man standing in front of a line of 18 tanks. But years later, his true identity, as well as his fate, remains unknown, says the Los Angeles Times in a 4 June 2004 story marking the 15th anniversary of the violent protests that shocked the world.

Several human rights activists are quoted, guessing that the man was likely imprisoned or executed by the Chinese government, which does not officially acknowledge any civilian deaths. A British tabloid had identified him as Wang Wellin, but that report was determined to have been questionable.

The lone protester engaged in a shouting match with the lead tank’s driver before being whisked away by passers-by, the story relates.

Jeff Widener, the Associated Press photographer credited with taking the historic image, recalls, “I was just waiting for him to get blown away.”