Filmmaker, actor, director and writer Robert Anthony Peters screened his award-winning short film about the Tiananmen Square protests, Tank Man, at an Oct 2 event hosted by the Colloquium for the Advancement of Free-Enterprise Education (CAFÉ) at the Naveen Jindal School of Management. Peters was introduced by CAFÉ’s director, Dr. Peter Lewin.
About 70 people attended, including 10 students from a local high school.
“Some of those students were from China,” said Pamela Villarreal, CAFÉ’s associate director. “They didn’t know anything about Tiananmen Square.”
It has been 30 years since the world’s attention was captured by massive student-led protests in Beijing, China’s Tiananmen Square. They lasted from April 15, 1989, to June 4, 1989, when the Chinese government declared martial law and sent in the military.
In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators and those trying to block the military’s advance. Estimates of the death toll vary from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more wounded.
Tank Man is the nickname of an unidentified Chinese man who stood in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square on June 5. He was never identified and, having been led from the street by another unidentified man, his fate is not known.
The protests and deaths at Tiananmen Square have been omitted from China’s history, Peters said. “When I’ve screened the film for students from mainland China, their response has been that the footage of [the real] Tank Man is fake. It never happened.”
While Peters did not believe his film changed their minds, he hoped it had at least planted a question in their minds and that they will do their own investigation into the event.
Peters recently spent time in Hong Kong, where he marched with protestors. He made comparisons to the dissent in that city today and the dissent in Beijing in 1989. “In fact, Hong Kong holds an annual public vigil to honor what happened in Tiananmen Square,” he said.
When mainland China moved to pass an extradition bill requiring Hong Kong’s citizens charged with a crime to be sent to China for trial, the citizens of Hong Kong poured into the streets in protest. “One million people in Hong Kong, out of only a total population of 7 million, marched,” Peters said.
His appearance for CAFÉ was part of its mission of teaching business students about the free-enterprise system, including the importance of personal freedoms. CAFÉ, which was started at JSOM about two years ago, hosts one event per semester. Past events have featured journalist and political satirist P.J. O’Rourke and a panel of economists representing different universities.
“With this program, we are trying to counter a lack of knowledge about economic systems, with particular emphasis on free-enterprise systems,” Villarreal said. “A lot of business school students graduate without knowing anything about the history of economics. We also hope to teach them about the importance of history. It’s impossible to know where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been.”
— Glenda Vosburgh