When Yellow Ducks Invaded Tiananmen Square

The Chinese government holds such a tight control on the Internet that foreign travelers speak of being trapped behind the Great Firewall of China.  There are countless reasons why a website or even a search term might be banned, such as it supporting something considered immoral like pornography.  Many, however, are blocked because they criticize or could potentially criticize Chinese government, history, etc.

One banned topic is the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Chinese citizens.

By far the most iconic image to come out of the event is one of a still unknown man who has been dubbed “Tank Man.”

Tank Man at Tiananmen
Photo by AP photographer Jeff Widener

We still don’t know who this guy is, although there have been guesses over the years.  What we do know is that not only did he face down a line of tanks moving in to break up student protests, but he actually continued to get in the way when the lead tank attempted to go around him.  Eventually he was dragged away, although accounts differ as to whether it was by security forces (who presumably arrested him) or other protesters, fearing for his life.

This is not one of China’s shining moments.  Not only does most of the rest of the world heavily criticize China for the entire incident, but it also shows the power of the individual and the limits of authority.  The man in the tank was willing to roll his tank into the middle of town, but he was unwilling to blatantly and personally run down an unarmed man.

Well, armed with nothing but a bag of groceries.  Which might suggest this guy wasn’t even specifically in Tiananmen Square to protest.  He just might have been a passerby who spontaneously inserted himself into the protest, as if seeing the tanks proved to be his breaking point in accepting what the government was allowed to do.

So China bans all sorts of words that might bring up articles of Tiananmen Square and particularly of Tank Man.

The Internet responded with piles of images meant to memorialize the massacre while getting past the censors, such as:

But by far the most popular was a Photoshopped image of the square that day:

Yellow Ducky Tank Man
The Rubber Duckies of Doom

What does this mean for the Chinese government?  They added “Big Yellow Duck” to the list of banned search terms.  Really I want to see this list, which must read something like “Tiananmen, student protest, massacre, tank man, big yellow duck.”

That’ll show ’em.

Incidentally, it’s always interesting how certain images become famous and some don’t  The first picture is absolutely iconic.  No argument here.  But there were others.

Wide Show of Tank Man at Tiananmen
Photo by Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin

Like this one, for example.  Or, if you want:

Big Yellow Ducks at Tiananmen Square


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