…….asks China analyst Perry Link who was involved in mediating Fang’s eventual exile.
The US and China may agree that exile for the barefoot lawyer currently taking refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing is “the least awkward solution from their points of view,” he writes in The New York Review of Books, but Chen may not consent. (Above: Activist Hu Ji describes Chen Guangcheng’s escape.)
“Chinese dissidents have learned over the past two decades that exile leads to a sharp decline in a person’s ability to make a difference inside China.”
Imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo “made it clear after his arrest that he would not accept exile as an alternative to prison,” Link writes. “From what friends of Chen in Beijing have been saying in recent days, it seems that Chen is taking a similar position.”
According to Jerome A. Cohen, a Chinese law expert at New York University law school, the question for Chen is: “Is it better to be in China and be stifled, or to come to America and be frustrated because you’re not able to muster much understanding or support?”
Fang Lizhi provides a salutary lesson.
The scientist “made a poorly received, dogma-laden speech in broken English at the Council on Foreign Relations when he was allowed to leave the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for exile,” writes the Washington Post’s Steven Mufson.
Yet on securing refuge in the United States, Fang did articulate the case for Chinese democracy. In words that still resonate as the ruling elite struggles to modernize an over-centralized and inflexible economy, he told a 1991 National Endowment for Democracy conference that China’s efforts at modernization will always “end in failure” because of the constraints of its authoritarian political system.
The key difference between Fang and Chen is that the former was a prominent intellectual, celebrated within the elite but less well-known by the wider population. But if Fang is China’s Andrei Sakharov, Chen’s profile is closer to a Lech Walesa, a vocal and visible campaigner for the rights of ordinary Chinese citizens, including the disabled and women forced to undergo compulsory abortions.
“Chen has a broader following among average Chinese people than Fang had,” Link notes:
Fang was a hero to university students and some intellectuals. But most Chinese did not know him, and what they did hear of him were highly distorted accounts in the government-controlled press. Even before the 1989 crackdown, government television was broadcasting images of government-orchestrated “protests” in which farmers were burning Fang Lizhi in effigy. Many people, having no other sources on Fang, accepted such accounts. Today, though, with the Internet, far greater numbers of Chinese—millions of people including many outside of the big cities—know the true story of Chen than ever knew the story of Fang. And to judge from the many accounts circulating on microblogs and elsewhere, hardly anyone seems to view Chen with anything but sympathy.
By contrast, Link notes, “Chen is seen not as an elite intellectual but as an ‘ordinary person’ who taught himself law to help other ordinary people, and then was imprisoned and persecuted—and is blind to boot. For the Chinese authorities to accuse him of treason or to blame meddling foreigners for helping him will be a hard sell.” RTWT
One person whose stature has grown in exile is Rebiya Kadeer, a successful businesswoman from the Uighur ethnic group in the western province of Xinjiang. In China, Kadeer was arrested while on her way to meet a U.S. congressional delegation in 1999. She was put in a small cell in Bajahu women’s prison with two women monitoring her. One day in 2005, she said, the guards left and people in dark suits appeared, telling her she was bound for the United States. She didn’t believe it until she was taken to Beijing and met a U.S. Embassy official.
“I couldn’t control myself,” she recalled. “I cried and hugged the embassy official.”
“She became the face of the Uighur struggle when she came to the United States,” according to lawyer Nury Turkel, a former president of the Uighur American Association. “One of the wealthiest people in China before being arrested, she was already high-profile in China. Because of her tireless efforts after her release, she has been able to elevate the status of the Uighur struggle to an international level.”
Not is exile without its costs.
“We cannot be directly involved in what’s happening inside the country,” Kadeer tells the Post. She added, “When we go into exile, our relatives are in absolute danger.” Chinese authorities have arrested two of her sons and put them in a prison next to the one that housed Kadeer.
The Uighur American Association is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.