Never before seen Tiananmen Square photos found in shoebox

It was a black film canister, rattling around the bottom of an old Naturalizer shoebox labeled “photos.” I opened it, wondering if it was a roll of unused film. Instead, I found a twist of white tissue paper wrapped around tightly rolled black-and-white negatives. I held them up to the light. At first I saw…legs.

Tiananmen legs

Then, people with bicycles.

Tiananmen bicycle people

Wait, that looks like the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Is that Tiananmen Square? With banners? Tiananmen monument

Next, a white form rising above a crowd, holding…a torch?

Goddess_crowd

Oh man, is this what I think it is?

On Sunday night, I was searching through my parents’ photos for a piece I was writing on Tiananmen Square and my father, when I stumbled across two rolls of negatives that appeared to be from the 1989 student democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. I was stunned. I had no idea where they were from, why my parents had them, or why they never said anything about them.

Since my parents died, I’ve become an archeologist of my own past, digging through documents of half-remembered events, looking at pictures of people whose names I’ll never now know. Finding something like this though, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of June 4, was unexpected.

I had the photos printed. There were two rolls of film: 30 photos of a march down Chang’an Avenue to Tiananmen Square, another set of 15 photos of the Goddess of Democracy presiding over the square. In the second roll, I found a picture of my uncle, who was an art student in Beijing during the protests. Mystery partially solved.

My uncle in front of the Goddess of Democracy. Check out the hair.

My uncle in front of the Goddess of Democracy. Check out the hair.

I knew from my parents that my uncle was in Beijing during the protests, that he had gone to the square, and that he was not in the square on the night of June 3. I had no idea he had taken pictures. He must have developed the photos himself. Did he mail them to my parents? Did he slip them to my mother when she went to China in 1993? There’s no way to ask, at least for now.

From some of the banners, it looks like the first set of photos must have been taken after the student hunger strike began on May 13, but before May 29. The second set must be from the five days between May 30,  when the Goddess of Democracy was unveiled, and June 3, when everything went to pieces.

When we talk about Tiananmen and June 4, we often speak of memory, and forgetting. These photos have waited 25 years to be seen. So let’s take a look, and remember.

Photos from the march (sometime between May 13-May 29, 1989)

She looks so hopeful and happy. Her sign says, "Wake up!"

She looks so hopeful and happy.

The girls' banner says, "Wake up!"

The girls’ banner says, “Wake up!”

His sash says, "Only by speaking up can we have democracy."

The sash of the man holding hands says, “Only by speaking up can we have democracy.”

Lots of emphatic signs. One of them says "Don't be a vase" (ie, something that's just for show). Probably good advice.

Lots of emphatic signs. One of them says “Don’t be a vase” (ie, something that’s just for show). Probably good advice.

Marching down West Chang'an Avenue in front of the Beijing Telegraph Building.

Marching down West Chang’an Avenue in front of the Beijing Telegraph Building.

Lots of lighthearted people in the back. Sign says the workers of the People's Educational Press Printing Center support the students.

Lots of lighthearted people in the back. Sign says the workers of the People’s Educational Press Printing Center support the students.

 

I forget sometimes how many bikes there were.

I forget sometimes how many bikes there were.

Sign in the back pledges support from juniors at Beijing's 35th high school.

Sign in the back pledges support from juniors at Beijing’s 35th high school.

I was surprised that there were five or six photos with children in them. I wonder if any of them remember it now. The sign in the back says "Can't watch this anymore."

I was surprised that there were five or six photos with children in them. I wonder if any of them remember it now. The sign in the back says “Can’t watch this anymore.”

Tourists show their support.

Tourists show their support.

Waving at the tourist bus.

Waving at the tourist bus.

Tiananmen Square street fashion

Tiananmen Square street fashion

These guys show up in several photos. Friends of my uncle? Or just guys with perfect looks of determination?

These guys show up in several photos. Friends of my uncle? Or just guys with perfect looks of determination?

One of the signs on the monument says, "The People Will Not Forget 1989."

One of the signs on the monument says, “The People Will Not Forget 1989.”

Photos of the Goddess of Democracy on Tiananmen Square (sometime between May 30-June 3, 1989)

The Goddess of Democracy  above the crowd

The Goddess of Democracy above the crowd

Parents take their daughter to see the Goddess of Democracy.

Parents take their daughter to see the Goddess of Democracy.

A close up of the statue. A little kid is eating tang hulu in the shadows.

A close up of the statue. A little kid is eating tang hulu in the shade.

Reading the banner

Reading the banner

Lots of people taking photos of the statue. Westerner looks like he could be a journalist. Notebook in front pocket.

Lots of people taking photos of the statue. Westerner looks like he could be a journalist. Notebook in front pocket.

Another Westerner in the square.

Another Westerner in the square.

The Goddess of Democracy rising above the tents.

The Goddess of Democracy rising above the tents.

Update: Since a lot of people are seeing this post, yesterday a friend of ours launched a campaign called Help Free China. If you were moved by these images, and would like to help people in China access information that’s censored there (like these photos would be), check it out here.

131 Comments

Filed under Contemporary Chinese History, Uncategorized

131 responses to “Never before seen Tiananmen Square photos found in shoebox

  1. successbysteps

    I hope that this is far enough back in history that current authority figures in China do not decide now to “bring in for questioning” or detain anyone in those photos. Historic photos. Suggest placing the original film in a safe deposit box at a bank and/or consider contacting the Smithsonian or other venerable institution.

  2. Astounding, history through a lens. Eat your hearts out, Life and Time. These bring it all back and where is China today, Government controlled capitalism?

  3. These are magnificent, thanks for much for sharing. I remember the news about Tiananmen at the time, but I was very young and really didn’t understand the implications. These photos add a wonderful perspective to just how hopeful those event seem to have been at the outset.

  4. Photos catch the then reigning spirit of hope visible on the faces of ordinary people. People’s aspiration for liberty cannot be suppressed forever. These photos are sure to be testimony for the future generation of China of the sacrifices made in 1989.

  5. Your photos immediately evoked 25 year old emotions in me. This was the summer before my senior year of high school and I remember watching the events as they unfolded on the world news and sitting is disbelief that this could be happening. I was just a little younger than most of the students at Tiananmen Square and because of this felt a real connection with them. I clipped newspaper articles and caricatures about it out of The Tennessean newspaper and stuck them to a corkboard in my room. I wept for them then, wishing there was something I could do, and I weep for them now as I look at the faces in these photographs of hope and determination knowing how this turned out. Thank you for sharing this. The world needs to remember.

  6. ymedtupp

    That’s a treasure you’ve got there! You’re a lucky person!

  7. ymedtupp

    A treasure indeed

  8. Thank you for sharing this to us.

  9. Very interesting and important finding. It reminds me the peaceful student organization in Germany that was decimated by the Nazi regime. Too many things must be said for the sake of our own humanity.

  10. Pingback: Never before seen Tiananmen Square photos found in shoebox | memorrry

  11. I haven’t thought about Tiananmen Square protests for a long long time. But, like many people, I remember it as it unfolded on the news. It was an amazing moment to be a live.

    One of the things I like about living abroad is seeing how people live in the countries I work in. These pictures show a perspective of a participant. An amazing gift to the rest of us… and I’m glad your uncle cut his hair.

    I’ll move to Guangzhou in August. I’m looking forward to living in China.

  12. Pingback: This is a fascinating look back at a pivotal moment – thebergagency

  13. How incredible! Thank goodness you found them and thank you for sharing!

  14. Vijit Malviya

    Mesmerizing!

  15. I’m Chinese.These pictures are so amazing!

  16. The dictator is afraid of democracy.
    Days that will not be forgotten
    Ages 12 was in Iran

  17. I was in my first year at uni and I can remember that event so vividly…..Now after 30 years I am seeing these images that just remind me of the unfortunate incident……

  18. Simply awesome photos and writing. I was in Xi’an in ’90-’91 (and have since worked in China/HK since), and my friends who participated as students and those who supported the government 100% are almost indistinguishable – it is amazing to me how it was viewed (and thought about) in China.

  19. This is just incredible. I never write this, but this time, for this pictures it is definitely worth it: thank you for sharing.
    China should not forget.

  20. Pingback: Amazing photographs from Tiananmen Square found in show box | Northern Echoes

  21. This is wonderful. I remember the student who stood in front of the tank. Thank you for sharing and reminding us what real courage looks like.

  22. Reblogged this on The Missal and commented:
    Superb! And superb effort. I applaud this. Having done a small bit in the past to help liberate Russia and overthrow the Soviet Union.

    Also this reminds me that I saw a film this weekend called Wolf Totem. I recommend it.

  23. RFR

    Incredible! Precious photos of history unknown to most young people in China nowadays. I was born a few years before the incident and my parents have never ever talked about it to me. I first got to know this from the history textbook in school but it was described very briefly and in a very negative way. I learned about the truth only after I went abroad for university studies. People in China are forgetting this important historical event because of the “washing” and “monitoring” of internet content. History will repeat itself.

  24. an adventure through time! Beautiful

  25. Yes I agree with the others, amazing!

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