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On June 4, 1989, the image of a lone protester repeatedly stepping into the path of oncoming tanks was captured at China’s Tiananmen Square.  It has become an iconic picture of courage in the face of repression.


The Tiananmen Square protests began as a student-led, pro-democracy uprising.  Lasting for several weeks, the demonstrations attracted people from different segments of society hoping to pressure the government on democratic reform.  The protest culminated on June 4, 1989 when the Chinese military dispersed demonstrators with tanks and lethal force.


One of those demonstrators was Fang Zheng, who lost both of his legs in the crackdown.  For resisting government coercion to sign a written statement suggesting the incident at Tiananmen was an “accident,” Fang was denied his college degree.    This tragedy, however, did not dampen Fang’s spirit.  He became involved in wheelchair athletics and used his profile to advocate for human rights in China.  In his Freedom Collection interview, Fang remembers the moment when a Liberation Army tank ran him over, severing his legs:



We must not fail to tell the story of those struggling against repression, particularly in an age where the world is so closely connected through the Internet and social media.  Such awareness inspires us to take action and help those standing against tyranny.  Moreover, for those of us in free societies, stories like Fang Zheng’s remind us just how precious our individual liberty is.


Christopher Walsh is Program Coordinator, Freedom Collection.