“You know he’s blind, so the night to him is nothing” – Ai Weiwei
If you’ve been sleeping for the past three days, or otherwise avoiding all news sources, then you may not have heard the story of Chen Guangchen … and it is one heck of a story. Chen is a Chinese lawyer and dissident. Blind from childhood, he was refused education (you see, in socialist/communist systems they don’t see the value of spending “state money” on educating those that they don’t expect to get a payback from – much like the way state run healthcare systems will typically deny costly treatments to the elderly who can’t possibly pay it back in the form of some tangible, economic good). Undaunted, Chen taught himself and became a lawyer and an activist for human rights, in particular he advocates for the weak and handicapped and those who have been subjected to forced abortions and sterilizations under China’s “one child” policy. I mean, you can’t help but love the guy.
Chen has been under extra-legal house arrest for some time stemming from a 2006 conviction on some crazy, trumped up charges for obstructing traffic or something of the like. (And I emphasized “trumped up” – he was actually under armed guard at the time he supposedly committed these crimes.) He has been beaten, his wife has been beaten, his daughter has been followed to and from school being harassed by the “police” or whatever thugs are currently manning the post. (By the way, when I say “beaten” I mean his wife was thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly receiving a broken eye socket and denied medical attention.) Then, a few days ago, he escaped, apparently laying in bed for long periods of time to convince his captors he was sick, then waiting for nightfall to climb over a wall and make a break for it.
Information on Chen’s whereabouts is a bit sketchy right now, particularly since folks who may actually know where Chen is have no interest in discussing it. The above link gives the popular theory that Mr. Chen has somehow made it to the American Embassy in Beijing. (They spin it as a political headache for the Obama administration, by the way, but I think it is anything but. Can you imagine a better gift [politically speaking] than the chance to shield this guy from oppression?) After the escape, Chen released a video with his grievances against the government. (I provided the link for reference purposes. Mr. Chen is speaking Chinese and only a few snippets are given translation.)
There’s a lot of interesting information out there on this story. First, the NY Times gives a good account of Mr. Chen’s work here (from 6 years ago). Another story here indicates that Chen is a Christian (I knew I liked that guy) and has possibly been ferreted away into safe keeping by the large (and growing) Christian underground in China. Also interesting, the blog “seeingredinchina” claims to have actually spoken with Chen Kegui (a nephew living on the same compound) and has translated that conversation here. In the translation, Kegui gives some brilliant, emotional, and heart wrenching discussion of the failed legal system in China and the despair it is breeding amongst the people.
We don’t know exactly where Chen is today – but boy do I hope he’s made landfall in the US Embassy. We have a good inclination from the reports that he had to leave his wife and mother behind when he made the escape. Nobody is deluded enough to think the local thugs who were guarding him have been kind to them since his departure. Interestingly, there are no indications that Chen is seeking asylum – he actually just wants the Chinese government to investigate the illegal treatment he’s received, making a very simple and reasoned argument. If the central government knows about this behavior, then it is corrupt; and if it does not, then it should move immediately to rectify these problems in the legal system. It’s air tight.
So say a prayer for Chen Guangcheng today, and for his wife, his mother, his nephew Kegui and the network of activists that surely aided him along the way. These are people, created in the image of God, who have been brutalized because one man dared to speak out for the poor and oppressed. And while you’re at it, remember this: if a blind kid in an oppressive system can teach himself the law, fight for the rights of the oppressed, and inspire free people across the world, then there is nothing stopping you or I from doing brave and daring things as well.