Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Here's a report from the Wall Street Journal's China RealTime Report about a statement from Chen Guangcheng's former adviser, Mattie Bekink. Ms. Bekink's full statement is below. One has to wonder who has Chen's ear and what advice they are giving him. Is he even aware of the shitstorm his statement has kicked up? As many have noted, it's a sad situation all around. And let's not forget who's really to blame here: not Chen, not NYU, not his current or former advisors, but the Linyi authorities who made it necessary for him to leave China in the first place by their inhumanly cruel persecution of him for perfectly lawful activities, and the central government that enabled them and consistently looked the other way.
NYU has been Generous to Chen Guangcheng
Cheng Guangcheng is not being forced out of NYU. Neither the Chinese government nor the university is pushing him out. His time at the university is simply coming to its conclusion, a conclusion that was determined long ago and that Mr. Chen has been aware of since shortly after his arrival in the United States. NYU's campus in Shanghai had nothing to do with it then, and has nothing to do with now. And to suggest China's Communist Party is somehow involved or is putting pressure on NYU is absurd.
I should know, since I am the one who told him about the length of his tenure at NYU.
I currently have no affiliation with NYU. But I was a consultant to the university in 2011 and 2012, first working in Shanghai for a year on establishing the campus there, and then coming to New York shortly after Mr. Chen's arrival at NYU to serve as his special advisor.
As a lawyer who had done rule of law work in China, I was glad to come to New York to assist the courageous Mr. Chen and his family. I believe he is a remarkable individual who has faced tremendous injustice, suffered greatly, and nonetheless continues to shine with a sense of purpose and optimism that is inspiring. His legal advocacy work was impressive and important for China. It was a great privilege to work with him and I look back at our time together fondly. I am very saddened to see him now distorting the facts about his time at NYU. It is for this reason that I wish to set the record straight.
NYU has consistently been generous to and supportive of Mr. Chen and his family. The university, with no advance warning, no budget, and no chance to prepare, embraced Mr. Chen and provided him with an unprecedented level of support. Professor Jerry Cohen's comment that "no political refugee, not even Albert Einstein, has received better treatment," couldn't be more apt. Professor Cohen's personal generosity similarly cannot be overstated.
NYU’s support for the Chens was extensive and comprehensive. It was thoughtful and deeply personal, specifically designed to meet their needs and adapted as those needs changed. When Mr. Chen arrived in New York, he was recovering from injuries sustained from his dramatic escape. NYU provided physical therapists to work with him along with an interpreter. When the children faced an unplanned summer, NYU found them a bilingual Mandarin summer camp and provided daily transportation. My clear instructions from the university were to do whatever was necessary to support this family. Never once did NYU deny a request I made on behalf of the Chens, regardless of expense. The university always put the Chens’ needs first.
Professor Cohen and others at the university tried to help the Chens make the difficult transition from rural China to the heart of Manhattan. He and other colleagues invited them to their homes, organized dinners with people they thought the Chens might like to meet, and arranged outings and activities for the children. We wanted to see them thrive. We cared. NYU cared. And, as far as I can tell, still cares. This is why I was so mystified to see his claims.
Mr. Chen's advocacy was also in no way curtailed or limited by NYU. In fact, the university enabled him to continue his advocacy by providing him with interpreters, helping him to write and get op-ed pieces placed, facilitating meetings with relevant stakeholders in the human rights and disability rights communities, government, academia, and media, and supporting his work. Professor Cohen, himself an outspoken critic of China, worked tirelessly to ensure that Mr. Chen's voice was heard and especially to draw attention to the ongoing suffering of his family members still in China.
NYU's unflinching support for Mr. Chen clearly demonstrates that it was not influenced by the Chinese government. As the university has pointed out, approval for the NYU Shanghai campus came only after Mr. Chen was already comfortably settled in his Greenwich Village apartment. If the university had put its own interests in China ahead of its commitment to academic integrity and principles of academic freedom, it never would have extended the invitation to Mr. Chen in the first place. NYU also did not accept Mr. Chen under duress. It was public knowledge as Mr. Chen's departure from China was being negotiated that he had offers from other institutions, such as the University of Washington. NYU could easily have side-stepped this matter, so its welcoming of him and its continuous support make plain the university's values have not been compromised.
NYU provided Mr. Chen with a soft landing as a fellow in the Law School and helped him adjust to life in the United States. The plan was to support him and his family for a year and then assist them in making more permanent arrangements. That was always the understanding, and Mr. Chen was informed of this and was very grateful. NYU never committed to supporting the family indefinitely. The only thing that has changed is the passage of time.
It is a great shame that as his time at NYU comes to a close Mr. Chen chooses to malign his friends and supporters at the university with false statements. But his comments suggest that he is having a hard time accepting the reality of his new life. It is not the Chinese communist authorities who "want to make [him] so busy trying to earn a living that [he doesn't] have time for human rights advocacy". Rather it is life in capitalist America that requires individuals to support themselves. NYU's extreme generosity has perhaps protected him from confronting this reality until now, but that level of largesse was never intended to continue indefinitely.
I wish Mr. Chen and his lovely family nothing but the very best during their continued stay in the United States. My time helping him continue his advocacy work and helping his wonderful wife and children adjust to their new home was deeply meaningful and rewarding. I respect the many real challenges Mr. Chen has overcome. But any alleged challenges coming from NYU's being under pressure from China are entirely fictional.
Mattie J. Bekink was formerly affiliated with NYU's US-Asia Law Institute as Special Advisor to Chen Guangcheng. She is a lawyer and independent consultant currently based in Milan, Italy.