As a Chief Photographer for Reuters in China in 1989 I photographed the series of events the culminated in the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy advocates on Tiananmen Square in June. I started posting these images almost 10 years ago after noticing that the memory of those events was being "watered down." These are here to counter a "fake history" that doesn't jibe with the events as I experienced them.
Thirty years ago in Beijing, idealistic students risked everything, including their lives, to make a passionate stand for human freedom in the face of an overbearing state. As they cried out “Long Live the People,” waves of them outstretched their arms and thrust out two fingers to signal “victory.” They were fearless.
I was the Chief Photographer for Reuters News Pictures in China at the time and lived in Beijing. My favorite images of the 1989 protests reflect the participants’ idealism in the face of overwhelming odds and are now elements in these works by Shepard Fairey.
Singing patriotic songs, students locked arms and charged into a series of police phalanxes blocking their entrance to Tiananmen Square (image at the bottom, middle). Once they occupied the square, parades of ordinary citizens took to the streets to wave victory signs (top image) while Communist Party bosses met behind the walled gates of their Zhongnanhai headquarters to plot a response (bottom right).
After the People’s Liberation Army was sent in to suppress what is now called the “pro-democracy movement” on June 4, 1989, there was a liberalization of economic rules and policies. China then experienced a remarkable economic transformation. The idea: if people could get rich, they wouldn’t care so much about their freedoms. I think that’s a miscalculation. In Hong Kong today, ideas championed in 1989 have reappeared in a “Revolution of Our Time” in spite of the campaign to erase such “counter-revolutionary” thoughts from history.
My images used in these prints are from energetic and optimistic moments of the pro-democracy movement. Victory was in the air. Progress seemed inevitable to those with arms outstretched and smiles beaming from their faces. Shepard’s work reflects their hopes and aspirations. The same ones that fortified those protesters in 1989 are now fuel for the passionate idealists on the streets today.
-Edward Nachtrieb, Photographer