Chinese authorities announced on Friday that Chen Guangcheng would be allowed to apply to study abroad, suggesting a possible accommodation of his new wish to spend time in the US. He remains isolated in Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital, however, and told reporters by telephone that he felt his situation was “very dangerous”. From the Associated Press:
“Chen Guangcheng is currently being treated in hospital. As a Chinese citizen, if he wants to study abroad he can go through the normal channels to the relevant departments and complete the formalities in accordance with the law like other Chinese citizens,” the Foreign Ministry said ….
Chen sounded anxious as he spoke by telephone from his hospital bed Friday, saying he was very worried about his safety.
“I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous,” Chen said. “For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in.”
Chen said he spoke to American officials by phone on Friday, twice, “but the calls keep getting cut off after two sentences.” A senior U.S. official said U.S. Embassy personnel also met Chen’s wife in person.
On PBS Newshour, Susan Shirk of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California summed up the changes of the past few days, which she said US officials had “really left … up to him.”
They offered [the] alternative of staying in the embassy for a period of time. And, in fact, on Monday evening, that’s where things were. He — if you talked — he talked with Professor Jerome Cohen, professor at NYU Law School, who was giving him independent advice as a highly respected China expert and human rights lawyer. And as of Monday night, it looked like he was going to stay in the embassy and the embassy was making preparations to house him for some period of time.
On Tuesday, his thinking changed. And he asked that his family be brought to Beijing by the Chinese government as a sign of goodwill and credible commitment. And the Chinese government did that. And once he spoke with his wife several times, once she had gotten to the hospital, he decided to leave.
But, of course, once he reentered Chinese society, I think his feelings of vulnerability very much came to the surface, and he became uncertain about the risks he now faces.
The South China Morning Post gathered perspectives from a number of Chen’s supporters:
Lawyer Jiang Tianyong , who was taken away yesterday afternoon after attempting to enter the hospital to meet Chen, told the Post earlier that morning that he thought Chen made up his mind after reaching the hospital. “Previously he had been threatened only by people in Linyi [Shandong] – he was not in contact with people from the central government or Beijing – but at the hospital, he was directly threatened by someone from the Foreign Ministry. This perhaps made Chen truly feel that he was not protected.”
However, Chen’s lawyer, Li [Jinsong], said he was worried. “The original result was a relatively good one for Chen and his family. But now it seems like emotional influences are taking over, drowning out voices of the gentle conscience, both within and outside the system,” Li said. “It’ll be a relief if Chen can leave. But what if he can’t?
“The only people who actually benefited from this are those who mistreated Chen in the first place.”
While police outside the hospital were “very, very interested in recording everyone’s press IDs” according to Tom Lasseter, some supporters who had gathered there faced detention and, in two cases, beatings. Jiang Tianyong was among them, and was detained overnight on Thursday. From AFP:
“They beat him on his ears,” Jiang’s wife Jin Bianling, told AFP. “He is now deaf in one ear and can barely hear out of the other ear.”
Police released Jiang early Friday, but have been stationed at the couple’s home ever since, effectively placing him under house arrest, she said, adding they also destroyed Jiang’s mobile phone.
Artist and rights defender Liu Yi told AFP that police also grabbed him outside the hospital on Thursday, beat him over the head with a bottle and took him into custody for interrogation.
TIME’S Global Spin blog put together a guide to some of Chen’s most prominent supporters and associates who are now at risk. One of them, He Peirong, was confirmed to have returned home on Friday after being detained in Nanjing a week earlier. From Twitter:
I’ve returned home, everything is fine, thank you all.
Finally and inevitably, Next Media Animation offered its own interpretation of the Chen affair ….