News / Asia

Chinese Activist May Study Law in New York

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has applied for a passport and is expected to advance his legal education in the United States at the New York University School of Law.  

The New York University School of Law, or NYU Law, has offered Chen Guangcheng a fellowship.  Law professor and Chen legal advisor Jerome Cohen confirms that the activist has applied for a passport.  
Cohen adds NYU Law has an institute for studies of the Chinese legal system.

“We have run training programs in China for judges, prosecutors, lawyers, professors," said Cohen. "We welcome people from China.  We hold meetings every week in English or Chinese to discuss various aspects.  We’ve got a flourishing, lively program and he’s going to find it lots of fun.”

Cohen says Chen could benefit from studies of the American legal system, even if it does not apply to China.

 “American law is very valuable background information for people contemplating legal reform in any country," he said. "It doesn’t mean they want to import it, but they may want to get ideas.  Chairman Mao once said, ‘Don’t underestimate the power of negative examples.’”

Chen, a blind and self-taught legal activist, was imprisoned in 2006 for exposing abuses of China's "one-child" policy, including forced abortions.  He escaped from house arrest last month and fled to the U.S. Embassy.  Chinese authorities assured him he would be able to study law in his native country, but he subsequently said he feared for his family’s safety and asked to come to the United States.  His drama coincided with a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for annual bilateral talks.  

Michael Kulma, a China analyst at the Asia Society, a private educational organization, says Chen’s case presents America with a challenge.

“I think this case certainly does represent a challenge to American values, or to the issue that human rights has really taken a back seat in the relationship with China in recent years," said Kulma. "It brings it again to front and center.”

Kulma says China has been forced in the short run to address the human rights issues that Chen represents.  But in the long run, he says, Beijing could reduce the benefit of Chen's American experience by refusing to allow his return.

 “If we look at the past impacts, I think, of previous Chinese dissidents who eventually came to the United States, the impact is lessened by the distance between where they are in the United States vs. the things that are going on on a day-to-day basis in China," he said.

Professor Cohen says there is excitement at NYU Law about Chen’s possible arrival.  But he adds that it would have been better if the activist could study freely in his homeland.

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