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New on the Freedom Collection: Chen Guangcheng

Article by Christopher Walsh August 13, 2013 //   4 minute read

This post originally appeared on the Freedom Collection’s blog: Freedom Square.

Close your eyes.  Now try and go about your daily business.  For many of us, it’s an impossible proposition, leaving us in awe of those who live without sight.  Blind activist Chen Guangcheng is not only inspiring for overcoming his disability, but doing so while challenging the Chinese Communist Party through his advocacy for the disabled and downtrodden.  His activism was not without a price, however, as Chen and his family were imprisoned within their own home. They lived in constant fear of government reprisal.  With no sign of the regime’s harassment ending, Chen staged one of the great jail breaks of our time. The Freedom Collection now shares his story with you.

Chen’s activism began in 1996 when he petitioned the central government in Beijing over taxes that were improperly levied against his family.  The campaign was successful and Chen began advocating for people with disabilities who had similar grievances.  Soon, he gained notoriety as a prominent activist for the disabled in China. 

In 2005, Chen attracted the regime’s attention.  After months of investigating reports of forced abortions and sterilization to enforce the country’s one child policy, Chen filed a class action lawsuit against the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China’s office in the city of Linyi.  The local government retaliated by placing Chen under de facto house arrest.   In 2006, Chen was formally tried and charged with instigating destruction of public property and disturbing the peace, which Chen decried as baseless given his house arrest and constant surveillance by the police.  He was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. 


Chen was released from prison in 2010 only to be placed under house arrest once again by local authorities.  His home was routinely monitored by security agents who prevented anyone from entering or exiting.  Chen and his family were subject to constant harassment and abuse during this period. 

Chen escaped from house arrest in April 2012 and fled to Beijing, where he sought refuge at the United States Embassy.  In May 2012, Chen left the embassy after several weeks of negotiations, during which the Chinese government provided assurances that it would release Chen from house arrest and investigate the actions taken against him by Shandong provincial authorities.  Fearing the government would break its promises, Chen left China with his family and was offered a visiting scholar position by New York University.  He continues his work from the United States, advocating for human freedoms and democratic reform in China.

Learn more about Chen Guangcheng’s commitment to freedom in China:

  • The Great Firewall – “All dictators use lies, propaganda and violence to sustain their rule.”
  • Religious Freedom – “The Chinese Communist Party is scared of any opportunity in which people might come together.”
  • Rule of Law in China – “The people of China have been searching for rule of law for thousands of years.”

Christopher Walsh is the Program Coordinator for the Freedom Collection.