Five months after leaving China and arriving at NYU, the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng sat down for an in-depth conversation about the future of China with professor Jerome Cohen and Ira Belkin, executive director of the US-Asia Law Institute.
Chen, who had fought for the rights of the disabled and for the rights of women forced to undergo sterilization, became an international human rights figure when he fled home imprisonment in Shandong province and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. In New York Chen continues to advocate for his nephew, Chen Kegui, who has been indicted of intentionally injuring a police officer, a crime that may carry serious consequences.
“The gap between the rule of law and a situation like [my nephew’s] is very great,” said Chen, whose legal studies at NYU have included the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and their counterparts in Chinese law. “This is what life is like for a large portion of the Chinese population. It’s not like life in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing.”
China, said Chen, has arrived at a point where change is inevitable. Chen urged the audience at Greenberg Lounge to respect their own ability to make a difference, noting that it is the individual efforts of ordinary people that will determine the direction of China.
In the extended Q&A session, law students from NYU and around the New York metro area lined up to ask questions about everything from China’s central government to Taiwan to Asian legal values.
The activist repeatedly stressed the importance of individual action. “If you’re afraid of people who abuse power, than nothing will ever change,” said Chen. “Every emperor of China wanted their dynasty to last forever, but history shows that was not the case. We should believe in the power of the people. Your power is much greater than mine.”
Posted October 15, 2012