April, 2010 featured article

One Picture That Changed Our World

by Jonah Huang, age 18

On June 5, 1989, a single man stood defiantly in front of several tanks that had been ordered to gun down protestors in Tiananmen Square. The unidentified protestor was pulled away by bystanders moments before death.

He was never seen again.

This man’s legendary actions became the subject of one of the most famous photos in the history of journalism.

Jeff Widener, the photojournalist who took the picture, worked at the time for the Associated Press. He describes the photograph as “the shot I almost blew.”

Of the three shots he took, only one came out—and it was blurry. But the photo was clear enough to be used in over 6,000 publications around the world the day after it was taken.

Taking the photo was the easy part. The hard part was evading heavily armed security police and finding a safe location to use his camera. To prevent Western journalists from documenting the devastating violence, Chinese officials had deployed white-suited security guards in the area where pro-democracy protests were happening.

Widener recalls smuggling a camera into a nearby hotel where, with the covert help of a college student, Widener could bypass security guards and go up to the roof of a hotel. There, above Beijing’s Canyon Boulevard, he waited. Several hours passed before Widener witnessed a scene that would stir the world into action.

Widener’s photo is a powerful representation of the infamous Tiananmen Square protests. The severity of the violence, along with the communist Chinese government’s secrecy, has provoked and angered millions of people around the world. Even two decades later, people still feel the effects of these demonstrations. Despite many changes, those who participated in the Chinese movement for democracy are still feeling heat from their country’s Communist government.

Shou Yongjun, a former student leader of the Chinese pro-democracy movement in 1989, was recently arrested and covertly detained in southern China. During the 1989 protests, Yongjun famously knelt on the steps of the Great Hall of the People, located in Tiananmen Square, pleading for political freedom.

Now a permanent resident of the United States, officers arrested Yongjun when he tried to cross into Mainland China from Hong Kong to see his parents. He was detained on fraud charges for more than six months.

Whether or not Yongju’s arrest is tied to his past political activity is up for speculation. Regardless, suspicions are rising. Despite many changes in China over the past twenty years, Chinese authorities still hold grudges over the violent protests of 1989. Today, instead of using tanks, they impose detainment.

Nonetheless, Widener’s now famous photograph represents a shining example of good journalism. This one picture demonstrates the power of the pen – of in this case, a dedicated journalist’s camera.

[Source: USA Today]