Chen Guangcheng faces a difficult decision. The Chinese activist has come to a point where he must choose between remaining in China and continuing his struggle for social justice there, or going to the United States and battling the Chinese government from abroad.
Chen’s History of Activism
Born November 12, 1971, Chen Guangcheng is a Chinese civil rights activist who works on human rights issues in rural areas of the People’s Republic of China. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen has been described as a “barefoot lawyer” who advocates women’s rights and the welfare of the poor. Much of his focus has been on exposing alleged abuses in official family-planning policy, which often involved claims of violence and forced abortions.
In 2005, he organized a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi in Shandong for excessive enforcement of the one-child policy. Local authorities used brutal tactics that included raiding the homes of families with two children and demanding at least one parent be sterilized. Women pregnant with a third child were forced to have abortions. And if people tried to hide, their relatives and neighbors were jailed, beaten and held hostage until the fugitives turned themselves in.
As a result of this lawsuit, Chen was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006, with a formal arrest in June 2006. On August 24, 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic.”
Chen Guangcheng under house arrest – CNN News
Chen was released from prison on September 8, 2010 after serving his full sentence, but remained under house arrest at his home in Dongshigu Village. Chen and his wife were reportedly beaten shortly after a human rights group released a video of their home under intense police surveillance on February 9, 2011. Since his arrest and detention, the U.S. State Department, the British Foreign Secretary, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have issued appeals for his release. In 2006 he was named to the TIME Magazine 100, and in 2007 became laureate of the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Diplomatic Tempest – Recent Timeline
As the timeline below shows, events have unfolded rapidly for Chen since his escape.
April 22, 2012 – Chen escapes his house arrest and flees to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
April 23 to May 1, 2012 – Chen is an unofficial resident in the U.S. Embassy.
May 2, 2012 – After negotiations with the Chinese government, Chen leaves the embassy for medical treatment.
May 3, 2012 – During a visit by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Chinese and American diplomats work out a tentative agreement for Chen to come to the United States.
May 4, 2012 – Reports indicate he will be allowed by China to travel to the United States to study.
The Implications – Settling Accounts After the “Autumn Harvest”
According to reports in the Washington Post, at least half a dozen people have been detained for questioning over their role in Chen’s escape from house arrest. However, nearly all of those who got picked up in an initial sweep, including He Peirong, a female activist who helped transport Chen to Beijing, have now been released. But, if history is a guide, the government’s retaliation is not finished. The ruling party often punishes not just those who challenge or embarrass it, but also their families and friends. This practice is known in China as “settling accounts after the autumn harvest.”
Meanwhile, Chen has received an invitation to be a visiting scholar at New York University. While his security would be assured if he moves to the United States, he must weigh this against his ability to be effective working from outside of China.
Chen is another beacon of bravery shining a light on injustice. He stands in the company of past and present social activists and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who all faced great personal risk in the pursuit of a calling to right the wrongs of society. History will be the judge as to the wisdom of his choice.