Category Archives: Chen Guangcheng

“Lunch with the FT: Chen Guangcheng”

FT sits down with Chen, who has now been in America for a few months:

Lunch, ordered in by Chen’s minders, is an excellent, enormous Italian meal of pasta, pizza and salads from Otto Enoteca Pizzeria on nearby Fifth Avenue. Before we start eating, he asks if he can hold my digital recorder. “I have a deep fondness for audio recorders,” he tells me, as he examines my device with his fingertips. “I was given one in 2005 that I used to document accounts of the government’s violent family planning practices. It survived countless confiscation raids on my house and I still have it today.”

When I ask whether he’s worried about becoming irrelevant back home, as has happened to other dissidents once exiled to the west, he disagrees forcefully. He can, he says, still communicate with people in China. “When I was in prison I couldn’t even call my wife on the telephone, except for once a month,” he says. “But did I have more influence when I went into jail or when I came out? Do you think my communication with friends in China will be easier or harder now than when I was in prison? I believe I’ve answered your question.”

Chen’s “first demand”, as he calls it, is that the Chinese government obeys its own laws and its own constitution, which ostensibly guarantees human rights, freedom of speech and many other values that are taken for granted in the west. “When you read China’s constitution, you realise that if we could only fulfil those basic requirements then China would be a great country,” he says. “China’s laws themselves are not the problem, the problem is that they are not properly enforced in real life.”

This is both what makes Chen’s case poignant and what makes him so dangerous for China’s rulers – his activism is based on simply asking the authorities to live up to their own pronouncements.

He continues, emphatically: “China will see democracy, I’m one hundred per cent sure – it just needs time. If everyone makes an effort to build a more just and civil society then it will come faster and if everyone stands by and does nothing, then it will come slower but is still inevitable. Whether the authorities wish it to or not, the dawn comes and the day breaks just the same.”

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“Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots”

Ian Johnson has an interview with Chen Guangcheng in the NYRoB:

Ian Johnson: How do you account for Chinese officials’ frequent disregard of China’s own laws? Is it a lack of checks and balances—that officials think they can get away with anything so they do anything?

Chen Guangcheng: It’s also that they don’t dare do the right thing and don’t dare not do the wrong thing. Chinese police and prosecutors, do you think they don’t understand Chinese law? They definitely understand. But these people illegally kept me under detention. They all knew [that what they were doing was illegal] but they didn’t dare take a step to rectify the situation. They weren’t able to. Why is it like this? A Xinhua News Agency journalist came and saw me twice; as a result he lost his job. So you can see that once you enter the system, you need to become bad. If you don’t become bad, you can’t survive.

People abroad look at China’s human rights situation and they mainly see the situation of better-known people. But they don’t know about all the violations of ordinary people. You know my situation but you don’t know the situation of the huge number of the disabled in China, or the women who are bullied and abused, or the orphans in China. You probably don’t know much about them or just about a few of them. But this is why the officials are so afraid—because they know the true extent of the problem. They are terribly afraid of people organizing. It’s very delicate in the countryside now. This is why they constantly resort to detentions and so on. They don’t even try to find an excuse, they just do it—they are that scared.

So officials are aware it’s tense in the countryside?

There is nothing the leaders can do. There is a saying in China that if you are not correct, how can you correct others? Their sons and daughters have moved overseas and they are working in China all by themselves. How can they convince others? They gain money illegally together, and they get corrupted all together. They can’t blame each other. But they are very clear that if it continues like this they are going to be devastated.

Was this earthquake, for this current generation, like the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre was for the last generation?

No. June 4 was really big, even in the countryside. In the countryside, in the summer people have a habit of sitting around together after dinner to talk about things and escape the heat. They know exactly what happened on June 4. Everyone knows that a lot of people died, that the tanks crushed a lot of people. No one thinks that June 4 was a small thing. People still refer to it. If there’s a dispute with the government and people are discussing it, they’ll say “Right or wrong, what can we do? Weren’t the students right on June 4, but they were crushed to death? What chance do we have?”

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“Will Chinese justice rescue my detained nephew?”

The latest from Chen Guangcheng, still trying to stay reasonable in the midst of a very unreasonable situation:

On April 26, the local officials who had abused me and my family for seven years turned their shameless savagery against my brother, Chen Guangfu, and his family. That night, more than 30 men burst into Guangfu’s farmhouse. They dragged him from his bed into a car, hooded and with his arms pinned against his back, and took him away.

The thugs, armed with helmets, shields and pickax handles, soon returned to attack Guangfu’s wife and their son, Kegui. Bleeding profusely and fearing for his life, Kegui grabbed a kitchen knife to defend himself. He wounded three of the attackers. Even then, the attackers retreated only temporarily, returning to smash furniture and confiscate mobile phones and identification papers.

Kegui called the police, but they did not respond to the emergency call for hours. When they did, the uniformed personnel took no action against their lawless colleagues. Thereafter, public security officials and their thugs openly joined forces. They stationed themselves in my brother’s home and yard and installed surveillance equipment.

They detained Kegui, charged him with attempted murder and since then have denied him access to family, friends and defense counsel of his choice. It seems that in our county one can invade another’s home and loot and beat people, and not be held accountable. Yet defense of one’s own life and property while under attack is labeled “attempted murder.”

Local officials have now offered a small amount of compensation for a portion of the property they wrongfully damaged. But they have offered neither an apology nor compensation for wrongfully wounding three members of our family, nor have they recognized the still-detained Kegui’s rights to defense counsel and a fair consideration of his case in accordance with Chinese law. Of course, destruction of furniture is wrong and must be compensated, but are the invasion of someone’s home, beating and looting not also crimes that require compensation?

Many Chinese will recall the case of Deng Yujiao: She stabbed to death a drunken local official who was trying to rape her in 2009 and was charged with intentional assault. A massive public outcry pressured authorities to release her without punishment. When there is justice within, no evil can sway it. I believe the Chinese people have a strong sense of justice. They will not sit idly but will do what is right.

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“China’s Real Soft Power: Chen Guangcheng”

Chen Guangcheng addressed the Council on Foreign Relations this morning, leading to this CFR blog post:

In his moving and often profound commentary on May 31 here at the Council on Foreign Relations, Chen revealed himself as an optimist and a Chinese patriot: optimistic about his own future and ability to travel back and forth between China and the rest of the world; optimistic about the inherent goodness of the Chinese people, who want to do the right thing; and optimistic that democracy—in one form or another—will emerge sooner rather than later in China.

Of course, part of Chen’s story underscores the dark side of contemporary Chinese political life: the extreme and pervasive levels of corruption and violence—who knew that a senior Shandong official blew up his mistress of thirteen years with a remote-control bomb?—the continued threats to the safety and well-being of Chen’s own family members who remain in China, and the utter system of lawlessness that pervades the local system of governance. Yet, Chen, in his remarks, never wavered in his belief that time was on the side of right.

For the most part, however, Chen, like many Chinese and outside observers, recognizes that change in China will be fundamentally a function of the Chinese people—the path they choose, and the steps they take. And here too, he is an optimist, noting that the ability of the Chinese people to disseminate information means that change will come quickly.

In the end, Chen accomplished in an hour of free speech what the billions of dollars behind China’s go-out media strategy have never achieved: a balanced and nuanced portrayal of this complex country that left his audience with not only a better understanding of China but also a greater admiration for the Chinese people themselves. Now it is just up to Beijing to live up to Chen’s faith.

Exactly right- although foreigners can play a supporting role for pro-reform forces in China, ultimately the move will have to be made by the Chinese themselves.

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“How China Flouts Its Laws”

Whoa. Chen Guangcheng, who just a few short weeks ago seemed doomed to suffer extralegal house arrest and beatings for years to come, has written an op-ed for the NYT from the safety of New York:

High officials from the Chinese government assured me that a thorough and public investigation would take place and that they would inform me of the results. I hope that this promise will be honored. But the government has often failed to fulfill similar commitments. I urge the government and people of the United States and other democratic countries to insist that the Chinese government make timely progress in this matter.

The central government and the authorities in Shandong Province, Linyi City and Yinan County have many questions to answer. Why, beginning in 2005, did they illegally confine my family and me to our house in Dongshigu Village, cutting us off from all contact with other villagers and the world? Why, in 2006, did they falsely accuse me of damaging property and gathering a crowd to interfere with traffic and then, after farcical trials that excluded my witnesses and defense counsel, send me to prison for 51 months? On what legal basis, following my release from prison in 2010, did they turn our home into another, equally harsh, prison?

The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness. China does not lack laws, but the rule of law. As a result, those who handled my case were able to openly flout the nation’s laws in many ways for many years.

After the local police discovered my escape from my village in April, a furious pack of thugs — not one in uniform, bearing no search or arrest warrants and refusing to identify themselves — scaled the wall of my brother Guangfu’s farmhouse in the dead of night, smashed through the doors and brutally assaulted my brother.

After detaining him, the gang returned twice more, severely beating my sister-in-law and nephew with pickax handles. At that point, Kegui tried to fend them off by seizing a kitchen knife and stabbing, but not killing, three of the attackers.

Kegui, who is 32 years old, was then detained in Yinan County and, absurdly, charged with attempted homicide. No one has been able to reach him, and he has most likely been tortured even more severely than his father was. Although China signed the United Nations convention against torture in 1988 and has enacted domestic laws to implement it, torture to extract confessions is still prevalent.

Any serious investigation of the injustices that we and hundreds of thousands of others have suffered must determine who is beating, kidnapping, disbarring and prosecuting these lawyers and threatening their families, and why defendants are compelled to accept the nominal legal assistance of government-employed lawyers instead of counsel of their choosing.

China’s government must confront these crucial differences between the law on the books and the law in practice.

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“Brother of Blind Chinese Dissident Escapes Guarded Village”

Although Chen Guangcheng is safely in America by now, people have been worried about his extended family and the activists who helped him escape from Linyi. Apparently the guards who have kept them under wraps are farcically incompetent, though, because another Chen has escaped and made it to Beijing:

The brother, Chen Guangfu, said he came to Beijing to advocate on behalf of his son, who has been in police custody since attacking a group of plainclothes officers who broke into the family home in their search for Chen Guangcheng. He also said the family’s village in the northeastern province of Shandong has been subjected to the same severe restrictions that drove his brother to seek sanctuary in the American diplomatic compound.

Mr. Chen, 55, a farmer and itinerant laborer, said he slipped out of the village on Tuesday around 3 a.m. while his minders slept.

In the unwritten deal that paved the way for Mr. Chen to leave the embassy, Chinese officials said they would investigate the local Shandong officials who orchestrated his 19 months of house arrest — and the retributive beatings periodically administered to him and his wife.

It is unclear whether such an investigation has begun.

“There is still some hope but if nothing is done, it shows that these were just empty promises,” said Wang Songlian, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

So far it appears that Mr. Chen’s relatives in rural Shandong have suffered the most. Chen Guangfu, the older brother who arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, says he was whipped and stomped on by angry interrogators who wanted to know how a blind man could have evaded dozens of guards and scaled several high walls. The abuse, he said, lasted 48 hours.

But it is Chen Guangfu’s son, Chen Kegui, 32, who stands to lose the most. He is being held at a detention center in Yinan County and faces attempted homicide charges. According to lawyers the family asked to defend him, Chen Kegui slashed several officers who broke down the door of his family’s home shortly before midnight on April 27. The men, he claims, did not identify themselves as police officials and were beating his mother.

Chen Kegui went into hiding but was later apprehended.

The authorities have rebuffed the dozen or so lawyers who stepped forward to represent Chen Kegui. One says he had his license revoked, and several others claim travel bans or threats have prevented them from traveling to Shandong.

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“Blind Chinese activist leaves Beijing for U.S.”

Great news of the day- Chen is currently on a plane headed for Newark (via Reuters):

China’s Foreign Ministry limited its commentary to an acknowledgement that Chen had left the country.

“Chen Guangcheng is a Chinese citizen. China’s relevant departments have handled the procedures for exiting the country in accordance with the law,” the ministry said in a faxed statement to Reuters.

State news agency Xinhua said earlier that Chen had applied to study in the United States under legal procedures. The Foreign Ministry said this month that Chen could apply to study abroad, a move seen as a way of easing Sino-U.S. tensions on human rights.

Chen’s friend, Jiang Tianyong, cited the activist, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, as saying that he and his family obtained their passports at the airport hours before he was due to board a flight.

“I’m obviously very happy,” Jiang said. “When he boards the plane, he can finally say: ‘I’m free’. At the same time, I feel a sense of regret because such a large country like China can’t even tolerate a citizen like him to exist here.”

Chen’s confinement, his escape and the furor that ensued have made him part of China’s dissident folklore: a blind prisoner outfoxing Communist Party controls in an echo of the man who stood down an army tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Chen’s supporters, however, welcomed his departure, saying he had indicated that he would like to return to China.

“I even told him…that he has to do a repeat of him scaling walls. If not, we wouldn’t be able to believe it,” Nanjing-based activist He Peirong said of her earlier conversation with Chen. She was one of six activists who drove Chen from Shandong to Beijing after his escape.

Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said “getting Chen Guangcheng and his family on a plane is the easiest part of this saga.

“The harder, longer term part is ensuring his right under international law to return to China when he sees fit,” Kine said in an emailed statement.

The village of Dongshigu, where Chen’s mother and other relatives remain, is still under lockdown.

Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was denied his family’s choice of lawyers on Friday to defend a charge of “intentional homicide”, the latest in a series of moves to deny him legal representation, and underscores the hardline stance taken against the blind dissident’s family.

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