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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs