By Sam Beatson.

News abounds that blind dissident activist, Chen Guangcheng, made an escape to the US embassy in Beijing this week. Democratic media has provided him with a platform to air his views and requests. He calls for justice to be served on local officials whom he alleges assaulted his family and he demands protection for them. He calls on high ranking CPC Standing Committee member Wen Jiabao to investigate these matters and for corruption to be dealt with in China.

Whatever the foundations of Mr Chen’s pleas to the Party, ironic, courageous, defiant, sincere, or treacherous depending on the line you take, it guarantees to be a hot topic of private chatter in online China forums and across China itself.  Yet publicly, it will be an unspoken rule forming part of the mainland Chinese culture to not publicly mention or dig deeply into the issue because of its potential to be political. Strictly taboo, so hush, hush!

To this end I sympathise with my dear Chinese counterparts who would be forgiven for thinking, “well, it’s ok for him to discuss openly this matter”. But the question I’ve got to ask is: what causes the kind of behaviour which persecutes a blind activist like Chen Guangcheng?

Mr Chen makes himself a target because he brings shame on the Party. He shows us the faceless image of China we never, ever read about in “The China Daily,” for example. In this paper, everyone is busy running multi-billion dollar enterprises while officials proudly visit foreign factories and show off China’s cutting edge business leadership and urban development. The image presented is that everyman and his dog in China can afford to buy luxuriant brands and live in opulence. China’s a pretty utopia! This is a wonderful bit of positive thinking with some genuine merit, painting a miraculously untainted story.

But voices like Chen Guangcheng’s can be likened to the Lorax, of the Dr. Seuss story recently remade as a movie. “He speaks for the trees.” Lorax Chen speaks for ordinary people’s perceived rights. However, in China, it is not the job of the individual to speak for the people, for this is the job of the Party. China simply cannot afford instability. Don’t you know this Mr Chen? What the rights people need to know is that instability has the potential to cause the loss of so many lives at this juncture. Sadly, in China, this means people like Mr. Chen need to be hogtied. He’s that dangerous. There’s no gently, gently about this in China. And there are historical and practical reasons for this.

Famines, deaths, wars etc. could follow on from the instability caused by mass insurrections, mainly because of China’s fragility with respect to basic human needs like food. Without a happy and willing agrarian population, a $2,500,000 two-bed in Shanghai becomes worthless. Instability in China has historical instances rooted from dissatisfaction of the lower classes with the government.

The difficulty arises when the politico-economic issue get crossed with the morality issue. The Party doesn’t concede that there is a morality issue at Chen’s level, if at all. Local officials might well sanction “communist tactics” on Chen and his family. A great many would agree this is “wrong” aside from the absolute staunchest of Marxists. On the other hand, to maintain stability is the right thing to do in China and without the Party, it’s uncertain how this could be conceived.

While the Chinese government should not ignore the issue of corruption, to be fair, it doesn’t entirely. We need to recognise the Party’s having been growing and changing and there’s no present alternative to the CPC’s authority. Thus, the blind man will be criticised en-masse for causing such a stir at this time. Yet, in the eyes of the just, his requests are fair and reasonable and Chinese people appreciate justice like anyone else.

Perceived shortcomings of the Party notwithstanding, the call on policymakers is to appreciate that this is not a one-sided morality (human rights) argument, but a sensitive politico-economic issue. Democratic revolutionism is not yet the plan of the Party and perhaps wisely so.

Sam Beatson is a PhD Candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. “Sadly, in China, this means people like Mr. Chen need to be hogtied.”

    That’s plainly Fascist, I hope the CPI realises that. Not even the GT could go so far.

  2. It’s not normal for Chinese studies specialists to call the Chinese government fascist, even when the method is brutal. A quick scan of the wikipedia pages for both Marxism and Leninism don’t find a single instance of a reference to ‘fascism’ or ‘fascist’ and I’ve never come across the Chinese government being likened to fascists in any academic course. Understanding the Chinese state as Marxist-Leninist in a way pre-supposes an element of fascism, but only by Lenin’s association with Mussolini, he was never a member of the Fascist Party. Although I don’t know whether Mr Chen has ever literally been hogtied, it is self-evident that he has needed to be restrained and it is assumed from the media evidence that the methods employed warrant the use of such a word. Please note my grievance that I respectfully submit which is that the comment may have been made in a defamatory manner. SB, try to read between the lines a little more and learn to recognize some of the subtler ironies and ambiguities. Moreover, the last thing this blog needs is censorship.

  3. “What the rights people need to know is that instability has the potential to cause the loss of so many lives at this juncture. Sadly, in China, this means people like Mr. Chen need to be hogtied. He’s that dangerous. There’s no gently, gently about this in China. And there are historical and practical reasons for this.”

    This is a very problematic argument. Mass incidents in China are often the result of very real grievances of people that have not been properly addressed under the current political, administrative or legal framework. So to blame potential instability in China on the victims of state transgressions is intellectually unsound. You are confusing cause and effect.

    My understanding of science in general and political and social science in particular is that it should help inform and enlighten people and be a critical voice in reform processes. Increasing numbers of Chinese academics as critical intellectuals are trying to do just that (e.g. Cui Weiping, Sun Liping, Yu Jianrong, Guo Yukuan, Yang Tuan, Mao Yushi, etc). Let us conduct critical and constructive scholarship on China.

    1. Thanks Dr Fulda for your comments. I am so glad you have raised this point and happy to have provided a platform for your views and comment and for further exploration on the matter.

      Chen Guangcheng is a Western rights activist’s dream come true. Charismatic, entrepreneurial, oppressed, blind and willing to speak out against forced abortion in the face of brutality- Chinese local official style. It is a shame though that attempt a mitigating argument for the Commies and quickly you are labelled either a fascist or unenlightened. A point we can agree on is that the scientific answer to grievances in a Marxist regime is social democracy. This is not what Chen Guangcheng has set out to do. He has set out on a one-man mission and ended up with a Greencard. Nobody wants to take away pity for poor, innocent Mr. Chen and his family, indeed his leadership ought provide inspiration to other lawyer leaders in a changing China. However, it will take a lot more lawyers in agreement and willing to challenge the CPC and to even begin to create social democracy under the Marxist framework at the level Chen calls for. Moreover, social revolutionism does not equal social democracy and where does the line get drawn? Because Mr Chen appears to be the victim, doesn’t mean the balance does not need to be redressed. Simply pointing the finger at the Chinese government does little but feed into paranoia and close down constructive dialogue. It’s conceded entirely, of course, that Mr Chen shouldn’t literally be hogtied, but that is a metaphor for how things have panned out.

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