The suppression of the protest was immortalized in Western media by the famous video footage and photographs of a lone man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks which were attempting to drive out of Tiananmen Square. Taken on June 5 as the column approached an intersection on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the footage depicted the unarmed man standing in the center of the street, halting the tanks' progress.
As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the "Tank Man" moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. He reportedly said, "Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery." After returning to his position blocking the tanks, the man was pulled aside by secret police.
Eyewitness reporter Charlie Cole believes that "Tank Man" was probably executed after being taken from the tank by secret police, since the Chinese government could not ever produce him to hush the outcry from the civilized world. Time Magazine dubbed him The Unknown Rebel and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. British tabloid the Sunday Express reported that the man was 19-year-old student Wang Weilin; however, the veracity of this claim is dubious.
What happened to the 'Tank Man' following the demonstration is not known for certain. In a speech to the President's Club in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn — former deputy special assistant to President Richard Nixon — reported that he was executed 14 days later. In Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong writes that the man is still alive and hiding in mainland China. In Forbidden City, Canadian children's author William Bell, claims the man was named Wang Ai-min and was killed on June 9 after being taken into custody.
The last official statement from the PRC government about the "Tank Man" came from Jiang Zemin in a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters. When asked about the whereabouts of the "Tank Man", Jiang responded that the young man was "I think never killed".