Chen Guangcheng in New York: An Interview

Chen Guangcheng outside his house in Dongshigu village, Shandong province, northeast China, March 2005

Following are excerpts from a recent conversation among Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who was recently permitted to leave China and is currently a distinguished visitor at New York University School of Law; Jerome A. Cohen, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the US-Asia Law Institute at the NYU School of Law, who was active in securing Chen Guangcheng’s release; and Ira Belkin, Executive Director of the US-Asia Law Institute. For this exchange, Professor Cohen would put a question to Mr. Chen in Chinese and then summarize it to the audience at the New School in New York City. Ira Belkin then translated Mr. Chen’s replies into English.

Jerome Cohen: I wanted to ask Chen Guangcheng if tomorrow he had a chance to meet with the new leader of China, Xi Jinping, what would he ask him about with respect to law, human rights, the rule of law? What suggestions would he make about this?

Chen Guangcheng: First I just want to make sure, will Xi Jinping come to see me tomorrow? I just want to say that Xi Jinping probably understands the situation in China very clearly. I guess I would say to him that to have a truly stable and safe society you need a society that has fairness and social justice, and to have that kind of society you need to have a constitutional government, fairness, and free speech.

I want to use an old Chinese saying, the meaning of which is that a society has to allow the good in people to come out in order for that society to be stable. So in Chinese culture from a very long time ago there was a saying that if something is good, even if it is a very trivial matter, don’t refrain from doing it, even if it’s a small matter, and if something is evil or bad, don’t do it just because it is a small evil. And this is part of ancient Chinese culture.

Today a lot of people are imprisoned just because they spoke the truth. This is not a good way. This is not a way to bring out the good in people.

JC: I’m saying so far Chen Guangcheng has given us a rather abstract simplified version of things. He can give us of course many more specifics and I asked him, for example, does he want to discuss the case of his nephew who was recently imprisoned for three years and three months, in what many people interpret as an act of revenge by the local authorities because of the embarrassment he caused them by escaping at the end of April 2012?

CG: I would say that in China right now there are many good laws that are consistent with justice and there are…

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