A day to honor a hero of yesterday...
That's the most extraordinary picture of the last half of the 20th century, as far as I'm concerned. You could look at him as unusually brave, but he probably wasn't. He was probably just an ordinary person who was so disgusted at what he had seen for the last few days. This young man, who's obviously on the way to work, sees a column of tanks coming down Chang'an Boulevard and he says, "Right, that's it, I'm going out and I'm going to just stand in front of that column, and I'm going to talk to the commander of the tank column and ask him what he thinks he's doing in the city."
He actually gets up on top of the tank, bangs on the lid and he actually has some sort of a conversation. We don't know what he said. Then after he hops off the tank, he goes back and stands in front of the tank again. The film footage shows several other young men run out of the crowd, grab him and then hustle him off the street, because I think they were afraid that he'd just end up getting run over if he stayed there any longer, and these people then just melted into the crowd and they were gone. We never see his face, we only see him from the back.
It certainly has captured the imagination of people around the world. This is the image that expresses all the frustration of the individual in the face of the massive might of armies and government.
Now an artist and a bit of a provocateur living on the outskirts of Beijing, Mr. Chen said he spent the next 20 years suppressing memories of that day. But last year he began working on a series of paintings based on hundreds of photographs, taken at his unit's request while he was on the square. They include gauzy images of protesters commandeering a public bus, exuberant students parading with pro-democracy banners and soldiers feeding their abandoned encampments into bonfires.
"For 20 years I tried to bury this episode, but the older you get the more these things float to the surface," he said, chain-smoking in his apartment. "I think it's time for my experiences, my truth, to be shared with the rest of the world."
But by publicizing his experiences through his art, Mr. Chen risks provoking the authorities, who are eager to suppress discussion of the episode and excise June 4 from public memory.