Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Escape (of Chen Guangcheng)

The last few days have brought first the rumor and then the confirmed news of Chen Guangcheng's extraordinary escape from his unlawful home confinement to (apparently) the safety of the US embassy in Beijing. Chen has now released a video open letter to Premier Wen Jiabao (English translation here) asking Wen to investigate the circumstances of the vicious treatment that has been meted out to him and his family since his release from prison in 2010. Some more or less random comments:

  • A number of the reports of his video message to Wen state that he makes three "demands." The Chinese term he uses is 要求 (yaoqiu), which can mean "demand" but can also mean "request." In this case, I think "request" is probably closer to correct. He begins the message by saying 敬爱的温总理" (jing'ai de Wen Zongli): roughly, "respected and beloved" or "dearly respected." Although it's not nearly so over the top in Chinese as it sounds in English, it nevertheless demonstrates (sincerely or not) a respectful attitude that is inconsistent with making demands.
  • Some reports have stated that Chen's being in the US embassy puts the US in a difficult situation similar to what it faced when Wang Lijun walked in the door of the Chengdu consulate and (apparently) asked for asylum. I disagree. Consider this: what exactly is the Chinese government going to demand that the US do? Chen is not a wanted man; he has neither broken nor been accused of breaking any Chinese laws; it is perfectly legal for a law-abiding Chinese citizen to walk into a US embassy if the embassy is willing to let him in; it is perfectly legal (as far as I know) for that law-abiding citizen to stay in the embassy as long as both he and the embassy are happy with the arrangement. The Chinese government is hoist on its own petard: having decided that it was easier to persecute Chen by not using the formal legal system, it now faces the consequences of that choice. Chen has not, in a legal sense, "escaped" anything.
  • It is not just a wayward local government in Linyi that is behind Chen's cruel treatment. Of course, the central government can't know about every injustice, and if it knows it can't just send out orders and see everyone obey instantly. But this is a prominent case that cannot have escaped the attention of the senior leadership, and there's no evidence that the center is even trying. It is, in fact, actively taking steps to support the Linyi authorities. The Linyi authorities don't have the authority or ability to censor internet search results for Chen Guangcheng, and it wasn't the Linyi authorities can't make police in Nanjing detain one of those who helped Chen escape. Chen's politeness to Wen in his video message is a face-saving fiction.
  • How the heck did he manage this extraordinary escape? It's all very well for some to comment that to a blind man, night is no disadvantage, but his house was supposedly surrounded by lights at all times. And even if it had not been lit up, no matter how well he knew his way around the area, he could not have known where the guards were and how to avoid them. I suppose they were simply not expecting anything like this remarkable feat; I'm looking forward to the movie version. My guess is that heads are rolling in Linyi right now.

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Some answers for you I guess:

Posted by: Guidel | Apr 29, 2012 10:53:20 AM

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