Chen Guangcheng Optimistic for China’s Future

Chen Guangcheng addressed an overflowing auditorium in New York on Thursday, discussing various aspects of Chinese and international law and his hopes for himself and for China. From The New York Times:

In his first major public appearance since shortly after arriving in the United States nearly two weeks ago, Mr. Chen, 40, also praised Chinese leaders for allowing him to exercise his legal right to study abroad as a Chinese citizen — and not, as in the cases of most other Chinese rights activists, forcing him into exile as a dissident. “I think we can see that the central government is letting me come to the U.S. to study,” Mr. Chen said at a forum sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “That is unprecedented, regardless of what they did in the past. As long as they’re beginning to move in the right direction, we should affirm it.”

[…] “I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I think even over the last few years as the information age has developed so quickly, China’s society has gotten to the era where, if you don’t want something known, you’d better not do it. So people are using all kinds of means to disseminate information.”

But he said the process of developing a more civil society would be slow. “Many people — especially if it’s a big problem, they want to move the mountain in one week,” he said. “That’s not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit and start with ourselves.”

Given free rein to choose his starting topic, Chen reiterated his concern for his family in Shandong, whose mistreatment, he said, exemplified a broader failure of rule of law in China. From the transcript at CFR.org:

COHEN: […] So let’s start now, shall we? My first question: Right now what is your most pressing question?

CHEN: I think that what I’m most concerned about — it’s also the most important question — is the state of law in China. It’s still very much being trampled on. And more specifically, after I left my home in Shandong, the local authorities there have been having — retaliating against my family in a frenzied way.

Please think about this. Our central government more than once has stated that I’m a free person; I’m a legal citizen. […] And when I — my friends who helped me leave Shandong are also still coming under pressure, even though I’m legal. What’s wrong with them helping me leave Shandong? So if there’s no legal question, why are they treated so illegally? So is this authority that can rise above the law to justify all these illegal activities? There’s no — there’s no justice in this.

But this is still continuing. And I think that is the most important thing right now. And I think it’s something that more people need to care about, that it’s a very pressing and important issue.