Skip to main content

Cirque du Soleil shocks Beijing audience with Tiananmen 'tank man' image

By Tim Hume, CNN
August 15, 2013 -- Updated 0647 GMT (1447 HKT)
This banned image of Tiananmen's
This banned image of Tiananmen's "tank man" shocked audiences when it appeared in a Cirque du Soleil performance in Beijing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cirque du Soleil shocked a Beijing audience by screening an image of "tank man"
  • The politically-charged image of the sole protester defying tanks in Tiananmen is banned in China
  • The troupe says the show's content was approved ahead of time by Chinese censors
  • It has removed the image from its remaining Chinese performances

(CNN) -- A Cirque du Soleil performance left a Beijing audience audibly shocked when a banned image of the iconic Tiananmen "tank man" protester was displayed on giant screens in front of 15,000 people.

The politically-charged image -- of a sole, unarmed protester blocking a line of tanks during a 1989 government crackdown in Tiananmen Square -- was displayed for about four seconds as part of a montage of protest imagery during a performance of Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us," according to a post on That's Beijing magazine's website.

"The result was an audible collective gasp from the audience," wrote That's Beijing's editor, Stephen George, in a post which has since been deleted.

"The very fact it was displayed, so publicly and on such a large movie theater screen in front of so many people -- and in Beijing, of all places -- felt genuinely quite radical," he wrote. "As my friend commented, 'I can't imagine ever being witness to that image being shown in Beijing again, even if I stay here for another 50 years.'"

The image -- and any mention of the massacre itself -- is banned in China, raising questions of how it made it into the show past the attention of government censors.

Cirque du Soleil's publicist Laura Silverman said that "the image was removed immediately and is no longer shown" in the show, the South China Morning Post reported. It quoted her as saying the Canadian performance troupe had submitted the full show for prior approval by the Chinese Ministry of Culture, as visiting performers are required. "Our scheduled performances will go on as planned," she was quoted as saying.

The incident occurred during the first night of a three-night run of the troupe's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. Subsequent performances proceeded without the "tank man" image. The show continues its China run in Shanghai Friday, before moving to Hong Kong the following week.

The incident made barely a ripple on Chinese social media, although one user of the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service took offence at the image's inclusion. "Why can't you separate politics and art?" read the comment. "What would the Americans think if you put a photo of the collapsing World Trade Center in the show? Keep it out of the performance, stupid French Canadians!"

CNN's CY Xu contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0545 GMT (1345 HKT)
Reforms to the grueling gaokao - the competitive college entrance examination - don't make the grade, says educator Jiang Xueqin.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)
Beijing grapples with reports from Iraq that a Chinese national fighting for ISIS has been captured.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT)
CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road; China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Beijing rules only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1942 GMT (0342 HKT)
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0410 GMT (1210 HKT)
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
ADVERTISEMENT