HONG KONG - Blind activist Chen Guangcheng
is safely ensconced in New York, and both
Washington and Beijing are feeling pretty good
about this conclusion to their prolonged,
unusually nimble diplomatic dance over Chen's
The United States did not use Chen's
flight - last month to the US embassy in Beijing
and over the weekend to a future as a
research fellow at New York
University's School of Law - as a platform to
berate the Chinese leadership for its woeful
Neither did any
Chinese diplomat seize upon the Chen drama to rail
against American meddling in China's internal
affairs. Yes, a few angry rumblings emanated from
state media, but they were solely intended for
On the whole, in
very charged diplomatic circumstances that could
easily have led to a serious strain in relations,
both sides reacted with remarkable restraint,
flexibility and collaboration.
have been quick to hail the Chen case as an
example of the new maturity and sophistication in
Maybe so, but this
should not hide that the case has been an
international embarrassment for Beijing and that
Chinese leaders have only acceded to Chen's
request to study in the US so as to park that
embarrassment more than 1,100 kilometers away on
Chen, 40, will, at least for
now, be swathed in care and adulation in his new
home; despite his international renown, however,
he is little known in China, and Chinese leaders
aim to keep it that way.
Soon enough the
publicity, protest and Internet chatter about Chen
will die away, and he will be just another Chinese
dissident abroad making pronouncements never heard
by or reported to his own people.
that's regarded as a winning outcome in Beijing,
then it is a Pyrrhic victory that does nothing to
address the deeply rooted and widespread problem
of corruption that Chen has spent the last several
years of his life fighting against.
will be more Chens - many more - and the
leadership cannot, with the quiet assistance of
the US government, shunt them all off to law
school in New York or anywhere else.
Subtle diplomatic dances and not-so-subtle
Chinese economic clout aside, what has been done
to Chen and his family - and to countless others
in China - is brazenly illegal, not to mention
unconscionable. For his efforts to make his
country a safer and more just society, the
self-taught "barefoot lawyer" from northeastern
Shandong province had been rewarded with torture
and a prison cell.
No one is suggesting
that President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao or
others in the top echelon of the Communist Party's
leadership structure ordered or approved of this
treatment. Indeed, they are surely deeply
embarrassed by it and would like such shameful,
extra-legal punishments to stop.
notwithstanding much anti-corruption rhetoric, the
Hu-Wen leadership team has been largely
ineffective during its 10 years in power in
reducing the rampant graft and abuse of power at
the local level of Chinese politics.
a native of the small village of Dongshigu, first
became a thorn in the side of local authorities
when he journeyed to Beijing in 1994 to petition
the central government to lift taxes that had been
wrongly levied on his family, which under law was
exempt from taxation because of Chen's disability.
After his petition was granted, Chen went
about helping other families with disabled members
who had also been taxed.
later, buoyed by the success of his tax appeal,
Chen launched a campaign to stop a paper mill from
dumping toxic chemicals in a stream near his
Then, in 2005, after Chen exposed
at least 7,000 forced abortions and sterilizations
in the Shandong city of Linyi, the local
authorities responsible for this brutal edict to
force compliance with China's one-child policy had
Chen was seized later that
year on a street in Beijing and transported back
to Shandong, where, in 2006, he was convicted and
jailed for "organizing a crowd to disrupt traffic"
and "damaging public property."
dramatic April 20 escape over a wall that security
officials had constructed around his house, Chen
had been under house arrest in Dongshigu since his
release from prison in 2010. He says that he and
his wife have been severely beaten over the past
Following his daring getaway, Chen
wound up, with the help of a network of friends,
at the US embassy in Beijing, which sheltered him
for six days while American and Chinese officials
negotiated his fate.
He has posted three
demands to the Chinese government on YouTube: That
the local officials who allegedly assaulted him
are prosecuted, that his family's safety is
guaranteed and that corruption is seriously
addressed as a national problem.
On May 2,
American officials announced that a deal had been
struck to allow Chen to receive hospital care in
Beijing for a broken foot and other minor injuries
sustained during his escape and then to remain in
China as a free man.
After being escorted
to a Beijing hospital by US ambassador Gary Locke
himself, however, Chen - who, according to Locke,
had earlier enthusiastically agreed to the deal -
changed his mind and asked that he and his family
be flown to the US.
Chen attributed his
change of heart to threats he said had been made
against his family by local officials in Shandong.
Chen claims that officials there warned they would
beat his wife, Yuan Weijing, if he did not leave
the US embassy and that his elder brother, Chen
Guangfu, who helped him escape, has already been
In another frightening
development, Chen Guangfu's 33-year-old son, Chen
Kegui, has been charged with "intentional
homicide" for an alleged knife attack on officials
who entered his home following his uncle's escape.
Understandably, Chen got cold feet, and
diplomats were forced to go back to the drawing
board to salvage some sort of face-saving exit for
After more than two weeks of
behind-the-scenes talks, Chen, his wife and two
children flew out of Beijing for New York and a
new life on Saturday.
New York University
offered Chen a research fellowship in law, the US
government gave him a visa and Beijing - finally -
provided the necessary passports for him and his
It is telling, however, that those
passports were not issued until after the family
arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport,
having received notice of their imminent departure
only hours before.
Until the very end,
Chinese leaders did their level best to minimize
domestic publicity and political fallout from the
Chen fiasco and, arguably, they did an excellent
The certainly didn't want Chen
hanging around Beijing taking phone calls from
foreign reporters as the 23rd anniversary of the
June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy
demonstrators in Tiananmen Square approaches.
Nor did they want him there in the run-up
to the next party congress, scheduled for this
autumn, when a new generation of leaders will be
It's better to let Chen go to New
York and become a darling of the Western media -
until, that is, his newfound friends get bored and
move on to another topic.
Then he will be
just another homesick dissident in the Chinese
Meanwhile, back in China, the
beat goes on.
Kent Ewing is a Hong
Kong-based teacher and writer. He can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on
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