The world’s attention has recently been focused on the plight of Chen Guangcheng, the blind civil and human rights activist. Chen was jailed for four years after challenging China’s one child policy.
After his release Chen was put under house arrest. Then, in unwitting imitation of The Shawshank Redemption, last month Chen scaled a wall, took to his heels and – after a drenching in a river and numerous wrong turns – navigated himself to where, He Peirong, a well known blogger, was waiting for him. She drove him for eight hours to Beijing and has since been arrested.
In the capital Chen sought sanctuary in the US Embassy, who then brokered a deal with the Chinese and delivered Chen to a hospital unit. A series of dramatic twists and turn finally ended with the welcome news that Chen has been allowed to leave China and fly to the Unites States. Meanwhile, the corrupt and violent officials in Linyi, where Chen was tortured an imprisoned, have been tightening the noose around his extended family.
Indicative of Chen’s widespread following, China have obliterated references to Chen and even censored the word Shawshank from internet searches. Young Chinese have taken to wearing dark glasses – emblematic of Chen – and bloggers have been breaking firewalls to tell Chen’s story.
Chen’s case had grabbed China’s imagination posing a real problem for its Government and those of the US and the UK too.
In an editorial The Economist, underlined the ramifications of what Chen has done: “ At rare moments the future of a nation, even one teeming with 1.3 billion souls, can be bound up in the fate of a single person” Chen “matters enormously to China’s future.”
Chen is not a political dissident and does not denounce the country or its leadership. He is a true patriot, in tune with the masses, and dangerous because he has won the people’s respect and their hearts. One day Chen Guangchen will be celebrated in China as a national hero.
Chen’s fate challenges China’s attitude towards human dignity but he challenges the US, too.
If it had emerged that the Americans had removed Chen from safety, failing to secure safe passage for him and his family, it would have cast serious doubts on American diplomacy. The US would have been humiliated and it would have signalled a troubling shift in super power relations.
Chen’s case reminded me of the Siberian Seven – seven Christians who for five years, from June 1978 until June 1983, took refuge in Moscow’s American Embassy. Their story began in 1917 at the time of the Russian Revolution when they were exiled to Siberia. For decades they suffered persecution and violence and were branded traitors.
In 1983 President Reagan and Vice President George Bush Snr. got them out of their 5 foot by 18 foot embassy sanctuary. Visas were secured and they settled in the USA.
In 1981 I had become involved with the case. It led to the formation of the Jubilee Campaign. Their story gave global attention to the crushing of religious liberties in the Soviet Union and became a wake-up call to the world.
Chen’s story – and the stand he has taken against coercive population policies – will act as a similar catalyst, shining the spotlight on an inhumane policy which many in China have begun to question.
Hillary Clinton, and Barrack Obama, will not find it easy to bask in the reflection of Chen’s courage – both have been supporters of the reproductive rights lobby and of population control. In 1995, Mrs.Clinton participated in the Beijing Women’s Conference – a notorious conference of political elites, marked by the absence of a single Chinese woman who had suffered under the one-child policy – a policy not even alluded to during its deliberations.
Women’s rights, human dignity and family freedom is, of course, what Chen’s case is all about.
And here is the rub for the UK, which has aided and abetted the very policies which led to Chen’s incarceration after he exposed the 130,000 forced abortions in Shandong Province.
Over three decades British aid has been diverted into coercive population policies. Money given to UNFPA and IPPF has been channelled to the Chinese Population Association. They implement China’s one child policy – a policy which makes it a criminal offence to be pregnant; a policy which makes it illegal to have a brother or a sister. On one memorable occasion, after challenging this obscenity, a British Cabinet Minister swore at me and showed me the door.
This policy, which Chen challenged, and received rather more than verbal abuse, has led to an estimated 400 million babies being aborted or killed through infanticide; a gendercide policy which favours the birth of male children so that one out of every six girls is aborted or abandoned – leading to some 40 million “missing” women. It has skewed the population balance with around 120 male babies for every 100 girls.
The policy has also distorted the balance between young and elderly people with catastrophic social repercussions. Sex trafficking and crime has proliferated; women have become commodities; trafficking leads to the sale of girls as child brides. Little wonder that 500 despairing Chinese women take their own lives every single day.
China is a huge country and it would be wrong to assume that the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, or senior officials, approve of the barbarism of regional Communist Party officials.
Chinese people are some of the most cultivated people in the world, and there is much about today’s China which fills me with deep admiration, but the treatment of Chen and his wife and the behaviour of its provincial officials underlines the continuing challenge of matching extraordinary economic progress with the enhancement and protection of human rights. We have not heard the last of Chen Guangchen and can thank God that he now has the freedom to speak for millions without a voice.
By courageously exposing egregious violations, coercion, and eugenics this remarkable Shawshank has caught the public imagination. What an irony that it has taken a man with no sight to see that to which we have shamefully closed our eyes.