The Iconic Photograph and Its Political Space: The Case of Tiananmen Square, 1989

  • Stuart Franklin
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media book series (PSHM)


This chapter will attempt to set out the context within which iconic images have been deployed, with particular reference to photographs taken during and after the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. The paper will argue that there is a clear intentionality to the way in which some photographs gain ascendancy in the media and within public space, in a process that is organized and effective, lending force to, or accelerating the natural rhetorical power of, the image.


Tiananmen Square Iconic Photographs Iconic Image Beijing Hotel 15th Army Group 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author would like to thank the many eyewitnesses and fellow travelers who have come forward with their views and memories of the tragic events of June 1989. Special thanks go to Charlie Cole and John Gittings for insightful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Any errors remain my own.


  1. Allemang, J. 1989. “Television Proves Powerful Ally for Protesting Students.” Toronto Globe and Mail, 6 June, A14.Google Scholar
  2. Barthes, Roland. 1980. “Rhetoric of the Image.” In Classic Essays on Photography, edited by A. Trachtenberg, 269–285. New Haven, CT: Leete’s Island Books.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 1993. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  4. Béja, J.-P., ed. 2010. The Impact of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Brook, T. 1992. Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, W. 2005. Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cannon, B. D. 2001. “Photographs as Icons: Towards a Theory of Iconicity of Still Images and Photojournalism.” Ph.D. diss., Regent University, Virginia Beach.Google Scholar
  8. Chang, A. 2005. “Revisiting the Tiananmen Square Incident: A Distorted Image from Both Sides of the Lens.” Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs 5, no. 1.Google Scholar
  9. Chua, W. L. 2014. Tiananmen Square “Massacre”?—The Power of Words vs. Silent Evidence (The Art of Media Disinformation Is Hurting the World and Humanity). Printed by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.Google Scholar
  10. Debord, G. 1983. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Red and Black.Google Scholar
  11. Esherick, J., and J. Wasserstrom. 1994. “Acting Out Democracy: Political Theater in Modern China.” In Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China, edited by J. Wasserstrom and E. Perry. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fishkin, J. S. 1991. Democracy and Deliberation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Gittings, J. 1989. “Liberty Goddess Riles Leadership.” The Guardian, 31 May, p. 10.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 2005. The Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Goldberg, V. 1991. The Power of Photography. New York: Abbeville.Google Scholar
  16. Gordon, R. 1999. “One Act, Many Meanings.” Media Studies Journal (China Issue) 13, no. 1: 8283.Google Scholar
  17. Greiner, Bernd. 2009. War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Han Minzhu, ed. 1990. Cries for Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hariman, R., and J. L. Lucaites. 2007. No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Harvey, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. He, Zhou. 1996. Mass Media and Tiananmen Square. New York: Nova Science.Google Scholar
  22. Held, D. 1999. “The Transformation of Political Community: Rethinking Democracy in the Context of Globalization.” In Democracy’s Edges, edited by I. Shapiro and C. Hacker-Cordón, 84111. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hershkovitz, L. 1993. “Tiananmen Square and the Politics of Place.” Political Geography 12, no. 5: 395420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Higgins, A. 1989. “As the Dead Are Removed Many Take Their Place.” The Independent, 5 June, p. 11.Google Scholar
  25. Iyer, P. 1998. “The Unknown Rebel.” Time, 13 April, p. 192.Google Scholar
  26. Jacques, M. 2014. “China Is Hong Kong’s Future—Not Its Enemy.” The Guardian, 30 September.Google Scholar
  27. Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press. 1992. Turmoil at Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989. Cambridge: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.Google Scholar
  28. Koetzle, H.-M. 1996. Photo Icons. Munich: Taschen.Google Scholar
  29. Kristof, N. 1989. “The Tiananmen Square Protests.” New York Times, 18 April.Google Scholar
  30. Kristof, N., and S. WuDunn. 1994. China Wakes. New York: Times Books.Google Scholar
  31. Kynge, J. 2009. “West Miscasts Tiananmen Protesters.” Financial Times, 3 June.Google Scholar
  32. Lefebvre, H. 1974. The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Lim, L. 2014. The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Liu, M. 1999. “The Goddess of Democracy.” Media Studies Journal (China Issue) 13 no. 1: 120.Google Scholar
  35. Lowenthal, D. 1998. The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lu, Li. 1990. Moving the Mountain: My Life in China. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Mearsheimer, J. 2014. “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” Foreign Policy 93, no. 5 (September/October): 77–89.Google Scholar
  38. Nathan, A. J., P. Link, and L. Zhang, eds. 2002. The Tiananmen Papers. London: Abacus.Google Scholar
  39. Permutter, D. 1996. “Visual Images and Foreign Policy: Picturing China in the American Press 194989.” Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and Saint Paul.Google Scholar
  40. ———. 1998. Photojournalism and Foreign Policy: Icons of Outrage and International Crises. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  41. Pisani, E. 2009. “Chinese Whispers.” Granta 105: 6987.Google Scholar
  42. Polyani, K. 1957. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. London: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  43. Pomfret, J. 2006. Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and Their Story of New China. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  44. Rancière, J. 2012. “Democracies Against Democracy.” In Democracy in What State? edited by A. Allen, 7681. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  45. ———. 2014. Hatred of Democracy. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  46. Richelson, J., and M. Evans, eds. 1999. Tiananmen Square 1999: The Declassified History. Washington, DC: National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 16.Google Scholar
  47. Roberts, M. 1989. “Tackling Tanks with Sticks.” Daily Mail, 5 June, pp. 23.Google Scholar
  48. Sampson, C. 1989. “Bravery, Hatred and Ongoing Carnage.” Times (London), 6 June, p. 1.Google Scholar
  49. Scobell, A., and L. M. Wortzel, eds. 2005. Chinese National Security: Decision-Making Under Stress. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute and Army War College.Google Scholar
  50. Suettinger, R. L. 2003. Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.—China Relations, 1989–2000. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute.Google Scholar
  51. Tagg, J. 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  52. Taylor, J. 1998. Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Trachtenberg, A. 1988. “From Image to Story: Reading the File.” In Documenting America 1935–1943, edited by C. Fleischhauer and B. W. Brannan. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  54. Tsing-yuan, T. 1992. “The Birth of the Goddess of Democracy.” In Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China, edited by J. Wasserstrom and E. Perry. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  55. Wakeman, C. 1999. “Beyond the Square: Media Treatment of China After Tiananmen.” Media Studies Journal 13, no. 1: 5867.Google Scholar
  56. Wong, J. 1996. Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now. Toronto: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  57. Wright, T. 2000. Refugees on Screen. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. ———. 2008. Visual Impact: Culture and Meaning of Images. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  59. Wu, Hung. 1991. “Tiananmen Square: A Political History of Monuments.” Representations 35 (Summer): 84117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. ———. 2005. Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political Space. London: Reaktion.Google Scholar
  61. Yates, F. 1966. The Art of Memory. London: Pimlico.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart Franklin
    • 1
  1. 1.Volda University CollegeVoldaNorway

Personalised recommendations