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April 21, 1989: Tiananmen Square Protests Begin

On this day in 1989, students began protesting in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the symbolic central space of China. Several weeks later, when the government sent in the army to end the demonstrations, the citizens of Beijing poured into the streets in support of the students.

The demonstrations ended in a massacre on the night of June 3-4, when the government sent the troops into the city with orders to clear Tiananmen Square. One day later, a single, unarmed young man stood his ground before a column of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace. Captured on film and video by Western journalists, this extraordinary confrontation became an icon of the struggle for freedom around the world.

In 2012, FRONTLINE took a look back at how the iconic image of the “tank man” came to be, more than twenty years after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

Photo: A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Changan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. (AP/Jeff Widener)

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