On June 5, 1989, one day after Chinese troops expelled thousands of demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, a solitary, unarmed protester stood his ground before a column of tanks advancing down the Avenue of Eternal Peace. Captured by Western photographers watching nearby, this extraordinary confrontation became an icon of the fight for freedom around the world. �In Frontline�s �The Tank Man,� airing Tuesday, June 5, at 9 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7, veteran filmmaker Antony Thomas investigates the mystery of the tank man � his identity, his fate and his significance for China today.�The search for the tank man reveals China�s startling social compact � its embrace of capitalism while dissent is squashed. Experts see this policy as a response to the nationwide unrest of 1989. �You have the crackdown, the closing of the political door,� says John Pomfret, longtime reporter on China and a witness to that year�s violent confrontations in Tiananmen Square. �You had to open another [economic] door, because if not, the society was going to explode.��New economic opportunities have allowed educated elites and entrepreneurs to profit handsomely, and there is a growing middle class in China today. But many Chinese still face brutal working conditions and low wages � including those building the sports venues for the 2008 Olympic Games. �A lot of factories do not even have one day off,� says Dr. Anita Chan, who has been researching working conditions inside China for 15 years. �That means seven days-a-week, 13 hours-a-day.��While Western governments hope that Chinese free-market reforms will eventually lead to greater political freedom in the country, Western technology companies, by controlling access to information on the Internet about politically sensitive subjects, have become a component of China�s efforts to stifle dissent. In the United States, this has led to an outcry in Congress over the involvement of major corporations such as Yahoo!, Cisco, Google and Microsoft. Yahoo!, in particular, has been criticized for providing evidence to the Chinese government that led to the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao in 2004.�On a U.S.-based Web site, Shi had posted a Chinese government warning to journalists about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. �[In that case,] Yahoo! provided all information, including the time of email sent, the IP address and the corresponding PC he used to Chinese government,� says Dr. Feng Congde, a prominent student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests and now a human rights advocate. �Shi Tao was arrested and put in jail for 10 years.� Yahoo!�s response in congressional testimony was that the company is obliged to follow the laws of any country in which it operates, and that it was unaware of the intended use of the information provided.�The struggle for control of information is widespread. Han Dongfang hosts a call-in radio show from Hong Kong, aimed at workers on the mainland. �Workers have no basic rights,� he says. �They don�t even have the right to negotiate with management.� In 1989, Han was elected head of the independent Trades Union that set up headquarters in Tiananmen Square. Today he is in exile. In China, he is considered an enemy of the state, and Chinese authorities have tried to jam his broadcasts. �All workers are facing the same situation,� says Han, �whether they are working in privately owned companies, foreign companies or reformed state-owned industries � no compensation for injury, no sick pay. And because of the long hours, accidents can happen at any time � loss of fingers, even limbs.��There is also evidence that unrest among Chinese workers and peasants is growing rapidly. Last year, there were more than 70,000 demonstrations in the country, some of them violent, protesting working conditions and land seizures by the government. Some observers believe another political explosion like 1989�s could be brewing.��China is on a knife edge,� says Dr. Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher with Human Rights Watch.� �If we in the West are not aware of this, the leaders in Beijing are very much so, and this is their top concern. They know that the stability is very fragile.���Frontline�s �The Tank Man� airs Tuesday, June 5, at 9 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7.�
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