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Daily Drip

Leica Fears China Wrath Over “Tank Man” Commercial

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Renowned camera maker Leica seemingly unveiled a new advertisement this week featuring the dramatisation of the story behind an iconic photograph. Doesn’t seem too controversial on the face of it, except that the photo in question was the famous “Tank Man” shot from 1989’s Tiananmen Square protests — an image and event that China is especially sensitive to this year as the 30th anniversary of the incident approaches.

What makes this especially intriguing is that Leica is a key partner for Huawei, with their lenses being responsible for some of the extraordinary photos you can take with some Huawei devices.

Given the sensitivity around events from 1989 and China’s tendency to slap boycotts or bans on certain brands, this may seem a particularly bold move from Leica, but the brand has already distanced itself from the ad, according to SCMP, claiming that it’s “not an officially sanctioned marketing film commissioned by the company.”

“Leica Camera AG must therefore distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn,” said Emily Anderson by email.

Direct references to the film are hard to come by on Chinese social media, while Leica’s official Weibo account chose to showcase slightly more harmonious images of the Chinese capital in the ’80s yesterday:

leica china 1983 beijing

Posts on the account ordinarily attract just a few dozen comments but that leapt to hundreds after news of the commercial spread. An otherwise innocuous post on Leica’s Weibo became the target for comments about the film, with users both expressing support and criticizing the advertisement (and some pointing out it wasn’t a Leica camera that took the original photo). Comments were soon suspended however.

In one version of the video uploaded to YouTube, the description reads, “Being the official partner of Huawei, Leica gets a lot of interest from China market. Even so, this brand still holds insulting comments on China. Our Chinese people have zero tolerance about it!” 

Whether the apology and distancing will be enough to save them from the ire of the authorities — and maintain their partnership with Huawei — remains to be seen.

A caption on the film itself, which features a number of photojournalists risking their personal safety to capture images across the globe, reads that it is “dedicated to those who lend their eyes to make us see”.

Interestingly, the famous photo — captured by the AP’s Jeff Widener — was actually taken on a Nikon. The shot is also at the center of a new televised version of the play Chimerica, which recently started airing on Channel 4 in the UK:

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.

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