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

By Tim Hume, CNN
updated 2:47 AM EDT, Thu August 15, 2013
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.

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