Friday, June 5, 2009

Tank Man?

Twenty years ago today, an unidentified man created one of the most enduring images in the world's consciousness by walking in front of a parade of Chinese military tanks, thus causing them to come to a complete stop following the Tianamen Square massacre in Beijing the day before. One lone man against the system. One man against oppression. David vs. Goliath.

He is known simply as "Tank Man" because nobody knows who he is. The footage of him in front of the tanks is all that exists of him. After he was whisked away, it was believed that he was arrested and executed, but nothing can be confirmed.

Other than the tragedy of his disappearance, the other tragedy is that young people today in China have no idea of this event because it has been suppressed by the Chinese government. If you do a Google search of "Tank Man" in China, no images or information regarding this man will appear. The fact that the Chinese government would do this is no surprise, the complicity of U.S. corporations, however, is less well-known.

"Prominent American corporations, including Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Websense and Sun Microsystems, have all played a part in quickly equipping China with censoring equipment,” Jill R. Newbold writes in the Journal of Law, Technology and Policy, which is published by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Cisco’s firewalls help the Chinese government monitor e-mail; Microsoft proxy servers block Web pages; Nortel aids the Chinese government in tracking its citizens’ surfing habits; and Websense contributes sophisticated filtering and monitoring techniques. Democracy, it seems, takes a back seat to profitable markets,” concluded Newbold, an editor at the journal.

Further fanning the flames, Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005 for "divulging state secrets abroad" based on information given to the Chinese government provided by Yahoo.

"For the sake of market share and profits, leading U.S. companies like Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft have compromised both the integrity of their product and their duties as responsible corporate citizens," Rep. Christopher Smith(R-N.J.) said at a related hearing in the House of Representatives. Smith, chairman of a human rights subcommittee, likened that cooperation to companies that aided the Nazis in World War II.

If the United States is serious about promoting democratic values abroad, then it should hold accountable U.S. corporations that export the exact opposite.

1 comment:

Mike Licht said...

Tank Man lives. New versions of this iconic image are all over the Web. Here, for example: