News / Asia

Change in China Inevitable, Says Dissident Chen

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (2nd R), standing with his wife Yuan Weijing, delivers remarks at the National Cathedral in Washington, January 30, 2013.
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (2nd R), standing with his wife Yuan Weijing, delivers remarks at the National Cathedral in Washington, January 30, 2013.
Catherine Maddux
Despite years of imprisonment, harassment and physical abuse by the authorities, activist Chen Guangcheng says he is hopeful about China.

“I am actually optimistic that change will come,” said Chen, at an event Wednesday in Washington D.C. 

Earlier this week, the blind activist, known by many in his country as the “barefoot lawyer, was presented with the Tom Lantos Human Rights award at a ceremony on Capitol Hill.  It comes just nine months after he made a dramatic escape from house arrest at his home in Shandong province. After taking refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, he negotiated his way out of China to study in New York.  

Chen has a somewhat paradoxical view of his home country - equal parts hopeful and dim.  

Sizing up the new Chinese leaders who assumed power in November, he painted a bleak picture, describing the situation as “dire.”

“The survival of the Communist Party has always taken precedence over rule of law and basic freedoms in China,” he said.  “And there is nothing to indicate that this situation will be any different under [President] Xi Jinping. To this day, the Chinese Communist Party has not given any sign that it will change or do the right thing.”

He ticked off the continued persecution against those who wish to practice their religious beliefs, against activists who speak out and ordinary Chinese by the authorities. He said the government uses what he called Mafia-like suppression to maintain stability.  

Before he left China last May, Communist Party officials told Chen – and the world -- they would investigate his complaints of abusive and illegal treatment against him and his family by the authorities in Shandong.  

Nine months later, nothing has been done.

“On the contrary,” said Chen. “The Shandong authorities sent my nephew to jail and also arrested my brother.”  He says his nephew and his nephew’s mother were also beaten in retaliation.

But nothing is simple in modern-day China, where tensions between the state and the people have been stoked by a growing middle class, economic power, official corruption, increased use of the Internet and an unfamiliar willingness to challenge authority.  

Chen pointed out improvements in the legal system, saying more laws and regulations are being drafted every year.  He warned of a back slide, however, noting that officials routinely ignore the law. 

“In China, the law is optional,” Chen said.  “The law in China is nothing more than empty words. Scraps of paper.”

But this champion of rights for farmers, women and the handicapped is not a bitter man.  Chen strongly believes that democratic reform is inevitable.  

“China is a country of brave people.  And as more and more people in China speak out, demand their rights and fight for public interest, change in China will become unstoppable,” said Chen, adding that he believes it will come from the people, not the leadership, because they are the same “lineup” – as he describes them -- as the party’s former leaders.  

Not everyone agrees about the current Chinese leadership and its ability to change.

“We should not completely lose hope for Xi Jinping,” said Cheng li, director of research and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.  “Now is still his honeymoon period…that he demonstrates some of the promises, some of the progress, like his trip to southern China emphasizing reform and openness. Now whether he will deliver, we do not know.  It’s still early stages. I’m still hopeful.”

Other experts note that the notion of China’s people rising up against their leaders is not that far-fetched in a country of 1.3 billion people.

“The people of China are increasingly bubbling up,” said Professor Jerome Cohen of New York University and the U.S.-Asia Law Institute.  “The Internet, social media, education… it all has an impact [and] they are increasingly aware of their rights. Also, there is a class we shouldn’t forget:  the educated, the middle class, the officials, the academics, the business people.  They are all now festering under this repressive regime… they are increasingly eager to improve,” Cohen said.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
February 01, 2013 3:01 PM
Chen is correct that reform will eventually come to China & it will one day be a democracy. But the CCP will fight tooth & nail to hold onto its monopoly of power They will not go quietly w/o a fight. The CCP shed blood to take over China in 1945-49 and they're willing to do it to maintain their dictatorship. But the Chinese people are losing their fear of the PLA & police and the CCP cannot win against 1.4 billion Chinese who want freedom. All empires eventually fall and so will the CCP dynasty. And soon, as 1 party dictatorships in the modern era don't last past their 70th decade.

And by the way Mr. Huang is just a member of the 50 Cent Party. His role here is to defend & apologize for the CCP.

In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
February 01, 2013 11:56 PM
I suggest you to go ask your Chinese friends if you have any, and to see how many are against CCP and how many support. I bet majority will support CCP. Because Chinese can see the improve of our country, no other country can compare with China. If they cannot see it is because they are BLIND, LOL


by: Frank Von
February 01, 2013 2:42 AM
China will surely do better day by day!


by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
January 31, 2013 8:10 PM
Sure China will be a better country and China will be the number one super power over taking USA.
China will find her own right way to reach that goal. We tried fully people power before and failed, reference the great leap and culture revolution, we realize people could be crazy and be very destructive if not well organized.
For the sake of the whole country's interest, some individual might sacrifice which is normal however some individual doesn't want to sacrifice and they are selfish. So what I could say is let them go, if they want to go live in US then go. Country cannot move but people can like LAWYER Chen!
Let all dissidents go to USA, please, its a win-win situation right?

In Response

by: Frank from: O. County, USA
February 01, 2013 2:49 AM
@Jonathan Huang, Communist China's overtaking USA will never come true. Let all Chinese exiles who still love Communist China go back to China!


by: Kirill from: Russia
January 31, 2013 7:33 PM
What he says about the Communist Party of China is equally right to KGB (under all its names) in Russia. As I feel it, as I see it.
But, as to Russia(ns), I have no optimism.


by: henry from: CA
January 31, 2013 7:02 PM
change is out of question, but not the way America hopes


by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
January 31, 2013 6:36 PM
Mr. Chen Guangcheng is an examplary human being, all of China should be proud of his accomplishments. The current government of China may not understand him, nor appreciate him, but future generations will see his accomplishments. Those that contribute in societies to promoting the rule of law, are in fact contributing to the building of a better society for all.


by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
January 31, 2013 5:34 PM
China is said to work on a 40 year cycle. Dating this from the end of chairman Mao (from 1975) then it is coming to the end of it's run.

In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
February 01, 2013 1:55 PM
you cant even make that correct! the Chinese cycle is 60 years!
From 1949 CCP establish the country, it already passed.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid