Jeff Widener’s Iconic “Tank Man” photograph reflected in the protagonist’s camera lens (screenshot via Youtube)

A promotional video for German camera maker Lecia has angered Chinese social media users for invoking the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, several weeks before the 3Oth anniversary of the massacre. Weibo, one of China’s largest social media platforms, banned any posts containing the word “Leica” in English or Mandarin. Lecia has since distanced itself from the video.

The five-minute videoThe Hunt, cinematically depicts photojournalists facing perilous situations in various war zones around the world. The video’s leading subplot is based on the story of photographer Jeff Widener, who is famous for taking the “Tank Man” photo from the sixth-floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel next to Tiananmen Square.

The video shows the Chinese police raiding the hotel and interrogating the photographer. With heavy breath, the photographer saves his camera and runs toward the balcony to take the iconic shot. The image of a lone Chinese protester confronting a column of tanks comes into focus in a reflection on his camera lens.

Although it features its logo, the company denies any connection to the video. In a statement, the company claimed that the video “was not commissioned, financed or approved by any company in the Leica Group.”

“We expressly regret any confusion and will take further legal steps to prevent unauthorized use of our brand,” the company said, saying that it has taken measures to ensure that the film is not shared on Leica’s own social media channels.

F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, a Brazilian ad agency that released the video, said it had developed the film with Leica representatives in Brazil. The agency added that it “would never harm its huge reputation by creating, producing and airing a work without the proper approval of its client.”

The controversy could potentially harm Lecia’s plans to expand its operations in China with 20–30 new stores. (China is the company’s biggest growth market as of 2017.) The company currently sells its cameras in 13 locations across the country, and collaborates with Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co., a company with close ties to the Communist Party of China, on incorporating its camera technology in Huawei smartphones.

Chinese human rights activists Zhou Fengsuo praised the video and called it a “game changer.” Zhou, a student leader in the protests and once number five on Beijing’s most-wanted list, told the South China Morning Post that the video “captured the spirit” of the protests. “I was in tears watching it,” he said.

On the eve of June 4, 1989, Chinese troops, backed by tanks, opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. The ruling Communist Party has never released the number of killed and wounded dissidents in the crackdown and keeps all information concerning the event under strict censorship. Estimates of the dead ranged from the hundreds into the thousands.

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...