Chen Guangcheng and human rights

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Chen Guangcheng and human rights

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Chen Guangcheng, the 41-year-old blind Chinese legal activist whose escape from home confinement has made global news, is now settled in New York with his family after a month-long ordeal that began with his dash for freedom. But few would believe China has reawakened to civil rights and free will with the international spotlight on Chen’s dramatic tale. The self-taught lawyer had been confined to his home in a small village in Shandong Province surrounded by fences and guards for annoying local authorities with his legal fights to enhance the rights of impoverished villagers. His escape and journey to the U.S. Embassy with a broken leg revealed the cruel and rampant abuses of human and legal rights by Chinese authorities.

Despite the global hype over Chen, Beijing authorities and traditional state-censored media remained aloof and untouched by his odyssey. They paid no attention to international demand for reforms in the repressive political system, tyranny in Chinese rural areas and crackdowns on dissidents. Except for users of Twitter-like Chinese microblogging Web site Weibo, a majority of Chinese were protected from the sensation Chen has created. Most conservative media groups remained mum or belittled Chen even as Beijing was engaged in a delicate tug-of-war over his fate with Washington for three weeks under strict orders from the Communist Party. Chen instead was portrayed as an outlaw who embarrassed his country and fled to the U.S.

Outspoken nationalistic host of the English channel of China’s state broadcaster CCTV, Yang Rui, who came under fire for his anti-foreign rant about throwing out “foreign trash,” bade good riddance to the blind activist in a more blunt tone: “The weak should be sympathized but still cannot be pardoned for mischief. I hope there is lasting hope and light in his world of darkness.”

Chen appeared weary in New York even as he finally gained freedom and safety with his family in the backdrop of carefully orchestrated coldness from his mother country and news of his relatives and friends in danger of reckoning by authorities. He and his family broke from Chinese confinement, but the rigidity and poor human rights record remain unchanged in China. His friends and relatives have been arrested, tortured or confined to their home, repeating his tragic ordeal. China cannot change overnight from a single event. The country should incrementally and structurally evolve into a more open and tolerant society.

* The author is a deputy political and foreign news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chang Se-jeong

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