“Is Chen Guangcheng the Next Fang Lizhi?”

I should really just let Perry Link post things directly to this site, because I end up re-posting them every single time. This time the subject is Chen Guangcheng, and after describing the circumstances under which Fang Lizhi went into exile in the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen protests Link concludes that:

The eventual solution of the Fang case was to negotiate Fang’s and Li’s exile: As Fang later wrote in The New York Review, Deng Xiaoping’s key demand in the negotiations was that the US lift its economic sanctions on China—a condition the US was unwilling to meet. But in June 1990, the Japanese government promised to resume loan programs to China, and with that Deng agreed to release Fang and Li as part of the package. The Chinese government demanded in addition that Fang agree to “no anti-China activity” after his release. Fang accepted this demand, but repeatedly made it clear that to criticize China’s ruling regime was hardly “anti-China.” He persisted with his criticisms, which he saw as supportive of China.

Today, for Chen Guangcheng, the two governments might agree that exile is the least awkward solution from their points of view, but Chen may not accept it. Chinese dissidents have learned over the past two decades that exile leads to a sharp decline in a person’s ability to make a difference inside China. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is now in his third year of an eleven-year prison sentence for “subversion,” made it clear after his arrest that he would not accept exile as an alternative to prison. From what friends of Chen in Beijing have been saying in recent days, it seems that Chen is taking a similar position.

Another important difference between the Chen and Fang cases is that Chen has a broader following among average Chinese people than Fang had. Fang was a hero to university students and some intellectuals. But most Chinese did not know him, and what they did hear of him were highly distorted accounts in the government-controlled press. Even before the 1989 crackdown, government television was broadcasting images of government-orchestrated “protests” in which farmers were burning Fang Lizhi in effigy. Many people, having no other sources on Fang, accepted such accounts. Today, though, with the Internet, far greater numbers of Chinese—millions of people including many outside of the big cities—know the true story of Chen than ever knew the story of Fang. And to judge from the many accounts circulating on microblogs and elsewhere, hardly anyone seems to view Chen with anything but sympathy.

Chen is seen not as an elite intellectual but as an “ordinary person” who taught himself law to help other ordinary people, and then was imprisoned and persecuted—and is blind to boot. For the Chinese authorities to accuse him of treason or to blame meddling foreigners for helping him will be a hard sell.

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1 Comment

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One response to ““Is Chen Guangcheng the Next Fang Lizhi?”

  1. Bill Ganapathy

    You couldn’t have put it any better. Please keep what you are doing. One day, the suffering masses in China will be grateful to you. Chen should not accept exile but remain in his country, with clear cut guarantees from the authorities (hopefully under the watchful eyes of the international community and its ordinary people) that he and his family would not be subjected to the treatment that they received.

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