The Trouble with Chen

Mike Gallagher

5/9/2012 12:31:52 PM - Mike Gallagher
May 9, 2012
Eric Hansen

Before last week, most Americans had never heard the name Chen Guangcheng.   With high unemployment and rising prices on gas and just about everything else, who could be bothered to give a wit about a blind civil rights lawyer in China?   If you believe in freedom, if you believe in basic human rights, if you believe in life, that you have to care about the cause of  Chen Guangcheng.  

Washington Post Foreign correspondent Phillip P. Pan brought Chen's story to American readers back in 2005 when he wrote about the activist's plan to sue local officials in his home province of Shandong for using compulsory sterilization and abortions to enforce the one-child policy.    He believed that the local authorities were breaking the law, and the suit would bring them back in line.  He had only an inkling then of the trouble he was stirring up.

In the 1970's, the average Chinese woman of child bearing age could expect to give birth six times, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.  Amid such explosive population growth, the nation's Communist leadership embarked on a effort to curtail their nation's birthrate. What began as a series of incentives for families having only one offspring,  was codified by 1979 as the One-Child Policy, and has remained in effect ever since. In a nation of 1.3 billion people, according to the US State department, these efforts have significantly controlled the growth of the citizenry.  The China Daily claims the one-child policy has prevented approximately 400 million births.  According to Guangcheng, the success has come at a price.  The incentive approach evolved into an inflexible set of restrictions, including quotas capping births in local regions. (Read this fine overview by Maria Trimarchi to learn more about China's one-child policy.)

The government imposes punishing penalties for those that don't comply with the policy, ranging from fines to loss of wages to confiscation of property and worse.  An ABC World News report from November 5, 2011 tells the story of Ji Yeqing, a Chinese mother whose second child was aborted when she was restrained and sedated by local officials.  Ji testified before Congress that the abortion was performed while she was unconscious.  Since the mid-1990's Guangcheng has crusaded against the harshest methods employed by local officials to meet its quotas.  His lawsuit sparked an investigation but also subjected him to the government campaign to keep him quiet, which has led to his current predicament.

Chen Guangcheng's fight to stop these abuses and champion the cause of life should be important to every American who supports the rights of the unborn.  His conviction are ours on this vital issue, and the right to life is just as important in Hebei or Shandong as it is in New York or Texas.  Even for those who favor legalized abortion in the name of choice, surely can see how the one-child policy does not allow any "choice" or control over reproduction.  It's hard to imagine any American anywhere who wouldn't support Chen's cause.

The US continues to negotiate on Chen's behalf to allow him to leave China and study in the US.  Even if the communist government there grants him safe passage, it's unclear whether the human rights movement in China will advance, or come under greater pressure at home, as a result of the Chen affair.  One thing is certain; we cannot forget Chen Guangcheng's fight. After all, it asks only for life and liberty, and we should be familiar with those ideals.