News

Blind Chinese Activist Faces Familiar Choice

This undated photo provided by the China Aid Association shows blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, right, with his son, Chen Kerui, with his wife Yuan Weijing, left, in Shandong province, China.
This undated photo provided by the China Aid Association shows blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, right, with his son, Chen Kerui, with his wife Yuan Weijing, left, in Shandong province, China.

After leaving the U.S. embassy and checking into a Chinese hospital, blind Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, may have lost his best chance to leave the country. Other Chinese dissidents have chosen exile to ensure their family's safety, but the choice carries drawbacks for their advocacy work.

Exiled activist

Wang Dan, one of the student leaders in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, takes part in a candlelight vigil for protesters crushed during the protests at the Liberty Square of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan, June 4, 2011.
Wang Dan, one of the student leaders in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, takes part in a candlelight vigil for protesters crushed during the protests at the Liberty Square of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan, June 4, 2011.
Wang Dan is one such activist. As one of the most visible leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing, he served two jail terms. In April 1998, he was released on medical parole, and exiled to the U.S., where he remained politically engaged.

Wang says after his first jail term in 1993, authorities offered him the chance to leave China but he decided against it.

“I thought I could still do something for China from within,” he said. “At the time most people had been arrested, or did not dare to talk. I thought it was best for me at least to keep talking.”   

But in 1998, facing an 11-year jail sentence, Wang realized that his future in China would have meant only confinement.

“I could do nothing to promote democracy in China,” he explained, “I thought it best to go to the U.S. and improve myself."

Wang has since earned a doctoral degree in history at Harvard University. He is now an assistant professor at Tsinghua University in Taiwan and has been blacklisted from ever returning to the mainland.

Chen's story


A self-taught lawyer, Chen Guangcheng collected testimony of forced abortions and sterilizations in his own province, Shandong, where local family planning officials were using coercive measures to meet the requirements of China's one child policy.

Chen's attempts to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of female victims angered authorities, who responded by giving him a four-year jail sentence on charges of damaging property and organizing a mob. Even after he was released from jail, local officials illegally kept him under tightly-guarded house arrest, until last week, when with the help of supporters he fled his village and went to Beijing.

U.S. officials say during the six days Chen Guangcheng took shelter inside the American embassy, he expressed no intention of leaving China.

Stay or leave?

Joshua Rosenzweig, an independent human rights researcher based in Hong Kong, recognizes that a decision either way carries downsides.

“Working within the Chinese context involves a great deal of risk,” he said, adding that activists need to be careful in their efforts and accept only very gradual change.

For those dissidents who choose safety and flee the country, there is the new problem of remaining engaged with people inside China.

“There is a conventional view among many that once an activist, or a dissident leaves the borders of China they simply, become irrelevant,” Rosenzweig said.

In recent years the Internet has helped narrow this gap and connect activists to their peers inside China, despite authorities’ ability to cut off and monitor electronic communications.

Unusual offer

Before leaving the U.S. embassy, Chen was reportedly offered what activists have said would be a highly unusual deal in which he could live freely in China, and enroll into a university without government harassment. American officials said they would monitor the situation and make sure the Chinese did not backtrack from its commitment to keep Chen and his family out of harm's way.

Human Rights Watch's
Sophie Richardson points out that Beijing is trying to guarantee rights that Chen, as a Chinese citizen, should already have.

“The guarantees that have been offered up to him are ridiculous in the sense that these are rights and freedoms that already should be guaranteed to him under existing Chinese laws,” she said. "Let's point a finger where it belongs, which is back at the government, which continues in one way or another, which it does with all activists, to threaten them over their work.”

Wang Dan, who recently co-signed a letter asking the Chinese government to give exiled dissidents permission to visit China, agrees that Beijing's reassurances might be short-lived.

“The authorities might say that they won’t harass him, but I think nonetheless that there would be covert spying and interference in his life. He will not have the opportunity to do what he really wants to,” Wang said.

Other Chinese Dissidents Who Have Left Their Homeland

Fang Lizhi Fang Lizhi: The leading astrophysicist stayed at U.S. Embassy for 13 months after China's 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square. He left China in 1990 and died this year in the U.S.
Wei Jingsheng Wei Jingsheng: The democracy activist flew to the U.S. in 1997 after more than 14 years in prison.
Rebiya Kadeer Rebiya Kadeer: Convicted of endangering state security, the Uighur rights activist now lives in the U.S.
Wu'er Kaixi Wu'er Kaixi: The student leader fled China with the help of a secret network after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
Liao Yiwu Liao Yiwu: Known for "The Corpse Walker" interviews with people on the margin of Chinese society, he fled to Germany in 2011
Yu Jie Yu Jie: Authored a book critical of Premier Wen Jiabao and left for the U.S. in 2012 after being detained repeatedly and beaten.
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs