"The safest place in Beijing."
April 28, 2012 2:24 PM   Subscribe

The blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has fled home imprisonment and sought refuge, according to Chinese dissidents, at the US Embassy in Beijing. Chen gained fame for organizing opposition to forced abortions under China's one-child policy.

The incident is causing discomfort and embarrassment in both Beijing and Washington, as they prepare for scheduled talks under the "Strategic and Economic Dialogue." A former US State Department official has called Chen "a very strong candidate for asylum."

Chen's apparent escape to the US Embassy would mark the second reported case in 2012 of a high-profile Chinese citizen seeking protection from American diplomats. In February, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun fled to the US Consulate in Chengdu, apparently fearing retribution from allies of local party chief Bo Xilai.
posted by BobbyVan (33 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It is a shame that he had to leave his wife and kid behind, both because how fucking terrifying must that be, and because it means he'll have less leverage.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:00 PM on April 28, 2012

Somehow I suspect that when the embassy hands him over to the Chinese, as they will, he's going to get a bit more than the "Vacation-style treatment" they gave Wang Lijun.

The US is really bad about protecting people.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:31 PM on April 28, 2012

The US is really bad about protecting people.

Based on what and compared to whom?
Ion Mihai Pacepa is still alive today and writing columns despite several death sentences and a few million dollars bounty placed on his head by the Romanian Communists.

Does it makes sense for the US to aggrevate their most important frenemy and play directly into the Chinese Government's longstanding narrative about foreign governments trying to interfere in their affairs? Of course not. They have to allow the other side to save face. That doesn't mean they won't work out some conditions to make Chen and themselves a little better off too. There will be some intense negociation over the next week as they try to settle this up before Clinton's big tour of Asia next month.
posted by Winnemac at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Winnemac, while I'd love for everything you posted about occurring, I'm not very sanguine about any of it happening. Would you happen to have any sort of cites or sources discussing the outcomes of previous Communist Chinese defectors? Google isn't turning up much.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:31 PM on April 28, 2012

From the New York Times article:

' The friend said Mr. Chen had climbed over a wall at night and evaded multiple lines of guards.

“You know he’s blind, so the night to him is nothing,”'

posted by UrbanEye at 6:38 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would you happen to have any sort of cites or sources discussing the outcomes of previous Communist Chinese defectors? Google isn't turning up much.

Fang Lizhi, spent a year living in the US embassy in Beijing before eventually being allowed to emigrate to the US after negotiations between Kissinger and Deng Xiaoping.

Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan, among others released from Chinese prison and deported the US after diplomatic pressure from Bill Clinton.

Tang Baiqiao, defected to the US through Hong Kong and accepted as a political refugee in 1992. He does claim that a 2009 assault on him in a Flushing karaoke bar was made by PRC agents, though the American police seem to think it was a random bar fight.

Zhang Boli, defected to the US through Hong Kong and is now pastor of an evangelical church in Northern Virginia.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:04 PM on April 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Thanks, strangely stunted trees. Of the people you list, only Wang Dan's wiki article notes that he was released for political maneuvering purposes.

"His release was not a coincidence, as his release and move to the United States followed an agreement between the United States and China. In this agreement the United States removed its support for a resolution criticizing China at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and in return China released political prisoners such as Wang."

Is this because these sort of things are kept secret or because they happen so infrequently?

OT: The url for his page notes that he is Wang Dang (dissident). I was so hoping that perhaps another Wang Dan might be a male porn star, because that is one great porn star name. Imagine my disappointment when checking the disambiguation page to find out this was not the case.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:34 PM on April 28, 2012

They have to allow the other side to save face.

Murderers and genocidaires must certainly be allowed to preserve their dignity. The entire world has been taking this approach with China for decades. Tell me, what benefit has it brought the Tibetans, the Uyghers, Chinese democracy advocates, China's neighbors, or anyone else? Other than the "benefit" of the entire world exporting its manufacturing capacity to China.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:45 PM on April 28, 2012

I've been following this story closely on radio; it's pretty stunning. Not just for the badass escape but for the crazy video of him taunting the Chinese authorities. He's only in Beijing, he's not really safe, he has a lot of courage.

Have there been any articles on how this story has been playing inside China? It would seem to be pretty compelling, if the government fails to suppress the news. Baidu has a lot of results forr [Guangcheng] but I don't read Chinese so don't know what they are; also I don't know how to search for his name in Chinese. No idea what's visible on Weibo, either. I'd like to read about that.
posted by Nelson at 9:46 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like to take a moment and admire this man's cojones, the sheer overwhelming awesomeness of his drive, courage and grit.

For one, this is not the first time he slipped out from rural Shandong to Beijing, a five-and-a-half hour drive if you start from the province's capital Jinan.

For another, you have this:
If Chen’s captors had been readers of history, they might have predicted that he would not acclimate to limitations. Born blind, to a peasant family, he once ventured four hundred miles to Beijing, when he was in his early twenties, to file a tax complaint. Later, he was steered into the study of massage and acupuncture—one of the few professions available to the blind in China—but he leveraged that opportunity into taking law courses, and became a pioneering attorney on behalf of women subjected to forced abortions and sterilizations under the one-child policy.
Incredible, absolutely incredible. And this is before we get to the bit where he estimates that up to a 100 people are involved in screening the rest of the world away from him. Mind-boggling.
posted by the cydonian at 9:50 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have there been any articles on how this story has been playing inside China? It would seem to be pretty compelling, if the government fails to suppress the news.

Not a chance in hell of this not being suppressed on the mainland, but can read about it in Hong Kong if you wish.
posted by Wolof at 9:58 PM on April 28, 2012

The blind Chinese activist

Hooray for Chen Guangcheng, the hell with the press for treating him like a sideshow. Just give me one news article that waits until the third paragraph to mention that the extremely ballsy Chinese dissident hiding out in the US Embassy can't see.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:27 PM on April 28, 2012

I'm vastly more sympathetic to the on-child policy than other oppressive measures imposed by China's government, but Chen Guangcheng's opposition probably improved the one-child policy longterm. Sanjay Gandhi's highly prejudiced forced sterilizations proved disastrous for family planning attempts in India.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:26 AM on April 29, 2012

Well shit, the rumors about the police rounding up his family, friends and associates have been confirmed. Best of luck to all of them as well.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:17 AM on April 29, 2012

Here's something about how the story is playing in China. Nothing in official media, of course, and sites like Sina Weibo and Baidu are putting in blocking filters to prevent discussion. Weibo is a Twitter-like service that is enormous; they've blocked words like blind man, embassy, consulate, and his English initials GC.

I'm fascinated by China's efforts to simultaneously embrace the Internet and yet control certain topics on it. Mostly it seems to be working for them.
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fascinating link there, Nelson, thanks for sharing.
posted by the cydonian at 10:34 AM on April 29, 2012

Chinese professor Zhu Dake (朱大可), has written this on weibo,

[The Story of the Mole] Once upon a time there was a mole who was surrounded by a pack of wolves, but with the help of some mice he managed to escape. The wolves were furious. The mole’s older and younger brothers, his mother and his baby still lived in the burrow. They became the hostages of the wolves. The escaped mole hid in the forest and called out to the lion, but the lion could not hear his fragile voice. The mice in the walls and the mice in the field all passed along the welcome news, but they couldn’t decide whether the [mole's] escape was a victory, or whether it was just the beginning of more hardship.

posted by Blasdelb at 11:32 AM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

New development: Zeng Jinyan - after having spoken with his wife - says Chen Guangcheng left the embassy because his family - with whom he had only recently been reunited - were held as hostage and were threatened with a return to Shandong province where he and his wife had been kept captive for four years. Mrs Zeng says violence was more than implied.

This directly contradicts the statement released by the US foreign ministry, who presumably brokered a deal where Mr Chen would be allowed to live freely without fear of extralegal punitive measures being taken against him.

Mrs Zeng says Mr Chen wanted to leave China with his entire family. The US foreign ministry, however, were pleased that they were able to facilitate his departure from the embassy.
posted by flippant at 6:23 AM on May 2, 2012

Everything went pretty much as expected.

Chinese officials grumble in the press about "interfering in its affairs" and demands an apology (as always). USA sticks to its position that it has acted lawfully, but uses soft language and refrains from putting the Chinese government on the spot. Now "Mr. Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment".

Predicable China-Dip stuff. Hopefully Chen's arrangement functions well for him, he seems like a pretty impressive man.
posted by Winnemac at 6:37 AM on May 2, 2012

I thought this State Department briefing was very interesting, and offers a very personal account by two people who were involved with what happened.
posted by gemmy at 7:52 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chen Guangcheng breaks silence with phone call to The Washington Post. (Spoiler: all he does is say "hi".)

That State Department briefing Gemmy linked is amazing. The optimist in me hopes that Chen and the US deftly handled an extraordinary situation and that he will be able to continue his activism inside China with some guarantee of safety now that he's so visible.
posted by Nelson at 9:33 AM on May 2, 2012

Activist Chen Guangcheng wants to leave China, says authorities threatened to beat wife to death. Quotes directly from Chen to the Associated Press, from his hospital bed.
But after he got to his room in Chaoyang Hospital with his family, he said no U.S. officials stayed behind and the family is now scared and wants to leave the country. He appealed to American officials: "Help my family and I leave safely."
posted by Nelson at 9:46 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

From Nelson's AP link
He also took issue with another facet of the U.S. version of his departure — that on his way to the hospital Clinton called him and he told her in halting English "I want to kiss you."

"I told Clinton that I want to see her now. I said" — he said speaking in Chinese. Then switching to English he said, "I want to see you now."
Deeply saddening how quickly Obama + Hillary threw Chen under the China bus.
posted by metaplectic at 4:26 PM on May 2, 2012

I am very saddened by this turn of events. It seems to me like there may be a lot more to this story than what we are seeing. I feel like if anyone's account of the Chen Guangcheng talks can be trusted, it would be Jerome Cohen's, and he backs the U.S. State Department version.

What could’ve happened when he got to the hospital and met his family his wife told him what had happened and that might have made him regret the decision,” Cohen said. “He may be very susceptible. Here’s a man who’s had a very skewed perspective, living under a lot of abuse for many years.

I really doubt that Campbell (who I have met a few times, although I wouldn't say that I know him), Ambassador Locke, and Harold Koh would be so naive as to think that kicking Chen out when he didn't want to go and abandoning him in the hospital would be the best way to handle this situation. More than likely, it's got a lot to do with language barriers (despite the awesome State translators) and confusion on both sides.

I really hope that it works out for him and his family, so they can move to a university town where they can safely live and study law like they want...
posted by gemmy at 6:40 PM on May 2, 2012

Channel 4 news:
"I asked him if he told the embassy that he wanted to leave China, he said: 'no, because I didn't have enough information (to make a decision)'. Later he got more anxious and started crying: 'I'm very sad..(long pause)..'

"I asked: 'what are you sad about?' and he said: 'everything I've been through in the last few days'.

"I think he really doesn't know what to do now, especially after he heard about the threat his wife and children have received. His friends also tell him that he cannot rely on the "assurance" from the Chinese authority.. This confuses him even more."
posted by metaplectic at 7:16 PM on May 2, 2012

A Car Chase, Secret Talks and Second Thoughts
Mr. Chen’s mounting fears could be charted in phone conversations with Teng Biao, his former legal adviser and a prominent rights defender who posted a transcript of their conversations on Twitter.

In it, Mr. Teng expressed alarm at Mr. Chen’s decision to reject asylum in the United States and urged him to reconsider for the sake of his family.

“If you don’t leave China, maybe they will leave you alone for a while, but horrible retaliation will be waiting for you,” Mr. Teng said. “It is going to be worse than the four years in jail or two years under house arrest.”
posted by metaplectic at 10:23 PM on May 2, 2012

Full transcript: Phone calls between Teng Biao and Chen Guangcheng
Without a doubt, they are going to sort all you guys out later. They also promised in [1989] they would not punish anyone, but look what happened next -- how many people did they shoot? You should know yourself -- Jiang Tianyong, Fan Yafeng, Tang Jitian, Yu Jie, Li Fangping and myself, just about everyone who has a bit of influence internationally, we've all been targeted for some very cruel actions. It's not as simple as being locked up for four years and being put under surveillance for another two. Their methods are very cruel, very unbearable. It's been so many years -- the people that have been trying to bring you down are not just from Shandong. You've been kidnapped a few times in Beijing. Once your mom and Kerui were at the ground floor of my apartment, and the Beijing police pulled me away and tackled me to the ground before forcibly taking them away. Another time you were kidnapped just below Jiang Tianyong's apartment. Beijing has been cooperating all this while. The government hates you. The demands you made to Wen Jiabao in that video are all very good. Wen Jiabao may be a nice man but even if he's trying to help you, unfortunately that won't be enough.
posted by metaplectic at 10:41 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems he decided to take his family and leave for the US after all.
posted by Winnemac at 10:00 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is good that he's safe
posted by Blasdelb at 11:29 AM on May 19, 2012

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