What is Chen Guangcheng’s future, wonders author Zhang Lijia, as she recalls her earlier meetings with the blind lawyer and his diligent way to make a difference in China. How can Chen stay China’s bright and honest son, she asks in The Diplomat.
Actually, Chen left with mixed feelings, worrying about the safety of his extended family. And some of his supporters also worry that he might have embarked on a journey that will see him sliding into irrelevance. The Chinese authorities will, most likely, prevent him from returning, the same way they’ve treated other dissidents.
With his departure, will his voice still be heard in his homeland?…
I totally understand that Chen has to put his family interests first, and he is absolutely entitled to have a “leave of absence” from his work as he put it. I also have no doubt that his study in the United States will enrich his life and develop himself further. But I do hope that he will be allowed to return to China. If he stays abroad for too long, Chen risks slipping into obscurity like so many dissidents before him, especially in light of his limited English and his blindness. Chinese farmers, most vulnerable to social justice, won’t be able to reach him easily.
A few years ago, I interpreted for dissident writer Ma Jian during a talk in London. When asked if living in a free country had been good for his writing, Ma replied: “I’ve gained a free sky over my head, but lost the soil I stood on.”
I know Chen isn’t, strictly speaking, a dissident. He isn’t even a licensed lawyer. Chen won some of the cases he represented but lost others. However, in a broad sense, each case was a victory regardless of the result because, in each situation, the rule of law was practiced and extended; and the rights awareness of those involved increased. Unfortunately, his very success also saw him fall victim to local officials’ obsession with weiweng – maintaining stability. And they were all too willing to break the law in order to silence him.
Our leaders have repeatedly talked about building a modern society, which can only mean a more democratic society ruled by law. Chen has been an inspiration and a driving force in implanting the rule of law. Why can’t China tolerate someone like him? He shouldn’t be treated like an eyesore to be rid of. China should be proud of having produced this bright and honest son.