Blind Activist Chen Guangcheng: A Man of Courage

Recently, Wired invited Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to nominate a person for 50 people to change the world in 2012. Ai Weiwei chose blind activist Chen Guangcheng for the Magazine’s Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world.

His bravery, persistence and thirst for justice are great inspirations. I would like to take this opportunity to express my respect for him and to send him my best. It would be an honour for me to meet him one day.” said Ai Weiwei.

At present, Mr. Chen Guangcheng is under house arrest due to his exposing human rights violations related to China’s One Child Policy. One child policy was initiated to keep the growing of China’s huge population at a sustainable level. However, it has also caused many problems and human rights violations. Since abortion is legal in China, couples who prefer to have sons may choose to have abortions if they know the first pregnancy is a girl. More baby girls are abandoned than baby boys. In rural areas in China, One Child Policy is administered by local Family Planning Offices. To prevent people having second or more children, Family Planning officers sometimes force people to have sterilization operation, or forced abortion. In Linyi, Shandong Province, violent implementation of Family Planning Policy, exposed by Chen, include: forced abortion, forced sterilization, imposing arbitrary fine, and detaining and beating families and relatives…

Chen tried to seek justice for those people but failed before the powerful authority that did not want to redress its wrong-doings. Nevertheless he did not keep silent.  He invited lawyers and researchers from Beijing to Linyi for further investigation and he also exposed what he knew to the media. Translated investigative notes written by human rights lawyer Teng Biao about violent implementation of the Family Planning Policy in Linyi can be read here (in English) (In Chinese).

Investigative trip photo, 14 August 2005. Guo Yushan (first from left), Lawyer Teng Biao (second from left), Chen Guangcheng (third from left) and a researcher before they left Dongshigu Village, Linyi. Photo courtesy of Guo Yushan

On 6 September 2005, after Chen talked with a Time reporter in Beijing, he was taken away by Shandong Police and put under house arrest until his detention on 11 March 2006. On 18 August, he was charged of “damaging property and disturbing traffic”. During his trial, his lawyers were not allowed to appear in Court.  One of his lawyers Mr. Xu Zhiyong was accused of theft the day before the trial and was taken to police for interrogation until the trial was finished. Chen was sentenced to an imprisonment of four years and three months.

Chen served his full imprisonment and was released and escorted back home on 9 September 2010. Since then, his soft detention started. His house was under monitoring 24 hours per day. Neither can he and his wife come out, nor can they make phone calls to the outside world, except when the mobile phone signal jammer struck broken by lightning. Moreover, many people, friends, activists, journalists and even movie star Christian Bale, tried to visit him but all failed in vain. Experience of an ordinary Chinese citizen who tried to visit Chen can be read here.

In Ai Weiwei’s nomination of Chen, he also said “Chen Guangcheng is an activist from Shandong who lost his sight as a child; but he is a bright light that shines in the darkness.” Chen was born on 12 November 1971 in Dongshigu Village, Linyi City, Shandong Province. He got blind due to high fever when he was one and half years old. Being blind, Chen started primary school at 17 years old, and later he studied at Schools for the Visually Impaired in Qingdao and Nanjing. Besides learning messaging and other skills that blind people are commonly trained for in China, Chen also studied law by himself.

Chen once said (in Chinese), “People often complain that the ways of the world are unfair, that the way is dark, but seldom think what they can do to change this unfair and dark situation. A clear sense of what to hate and what to love, a few words of justice, all can be the power to change these negative situations.”

In 1996, he went to Beijing and exposed the local government of Linyin’s levying tax on people with disabilities, violating the PRC Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons that people with disabilities shall be imposed lesser or no tax; in 1997, Chen exposed his village leaders’ imposing both agricultural tax and land use charge on farmers, which violated the central policy, and succeeded in stopping their wrong-doing; in 2000, he helped villagers in their fighting against the pollution of a local paper factory through collective signatory and civil litigation; in 2003, he sued Beijing Metro Company for charging blind people who do not hold disability certificates issued by Beijing City Government, and won the lawsuit … In 2003, people started to respectably address him “Lawyer Chen”; and Linyi City government awarded him “Top Ten Leading Figures in Media”.  In 2006, he became one of The 2006 TIME 100 most influential people around the world.

All these were done by a blind person, with self-taught law, and more importantly, with great courage and no fear before the authority. However it is also his courage of speaking out the truth that angered the government and finally made Chen and his family at risk. During this Lunar New Year, Chen and his wife were not allowed to step out of their yard or be visited by any relative or friend. A recent update about Chen can be read from the blog Under the Jacaranda Tree

Another article about Chen Guangcheng ‘He Warms Our Hearts with “Light” (Guang) and “Sincerity” (Cheng)’ can also be read at the above blog.

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One Response to Blind Activist Chen Guangcheng: A Man of Courage

  1. Pingback: Melissa Chan Bids her ‘Goodbye to China, country of contradictions’ | Chinese Voices for Justice

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