Whatever the outcome of Chen Guangcheng’s (陳光誠) ordeal in Beijing, it will not be a “win-win” situation, just losses all round. The entire episode is a harsh reminder that in China, the constitution and law are easily ignored and agreements are often not worth the paper they are written on.
Wednesday’s deal between the US embassy and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs over Chen began unraveling within hours of being reached. It involved relocating Chen and his family to Tianjin, away from the clutches of the Linyi County and Shangdong Province officials who have illegally kept him under house arrest since his release from prison in 2010 (where he was sent on trumped-up charges after his lawyers were barred from the court proceedings). US officials said Chen’s treatment by local officials would be investigated.
By Wednesday evening, Beijing activist Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) was being quoted as saying Chen only agreed to stay in China to protect his family including his wife, Yuan Weijing (袁偉靜), who was threatened with being beaten to death if he left the country. The threats were credible. Yuan has been beaten on several occasions, as has Chen’s 80-year-old mother, while the couple’s son has not been allowed to live with them for two years and their six-year-old daughter has thugs rifling through her bookbag when she goes to school, apparently in search of messages to and from the outside world.
Last Thursday, Chen said he was afraid Tianjin would not be far away enough from their Dongshigu Village persecutors to guarantee their safety and that he was afraid the authorities would think of an excuse to send him back to Shandong. After all, his elder brother, Chen Guangfu (陳光福), was detained after Chen’s escape and his nephew Chen Kegui (陳克貴) is on the run after defending himself from local officials who raided his house in the middle of the night. Other relatives have been rounded up as well.
The authorities in Dongshigu and Linyi have spent a lot of money trying to keep Chen caged and the village locked down — all because he embarrassed them by exposing that up to 7,000 women in the county had been forced to undergo late-term abortions or involuntary sterilizations to meet the quotas of China’s one-child policy, an expose that led to several officials being punished and won Chen the 2007 Magsaysay Award. Even though their actions have been illegal, their continued ability to act with impunity proves once again that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) operates above the law.
What are the options facing Chen, China and the US now? Will he be allowed to leave the country for temporary studies or will he be forced to stay? If he leaves — he has made it clear he is not seeking political asylum abroad — will he be allowed to return? If he leaves (or even if he stays), what happens to his relatives and friends? Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) has frequently defended China’s political reforms and admonished the West to keep out of China’s affairs, but the Chen imbroglio has made a mockery of Wen’s claims that China’s system protects its people and that their rights are enshrined in law. Once again, the People’s Republic of China has been revealed as a massive Potemkin village, with one facade for overseas investors and foreign visitors and a much darker, nastier reality for those living behind the walls.