China’s “Great Global Thinkers” for 2012

As the season of lists gets underway, Foreign Policy has released its ranking of the 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2012. Fresh from his coronation as GQ magazine’s Rebel of the Year, and leading the Chinese contingent at number 9, is legal activist Chen Guangcheng: Chen shocked the world in April when he made a daring, next-to-impossible escape, climbing over the wall surrounding his house (breaking his foot in the process) and catching a ride some 350 miles to Beijing, where he took refuge in the U.S. Embassy. After a tense, days-long diplomatic standoff closely involving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (No. 3), a deal was struck under which Chen would be allowed to travel to the United States to study. Now at New York University, Chen has embraced his new role as an evangelist for human rights, making the case that incremental change — one village or even one person at a time — can eventually transform a superpower. Against all odds, he remains optimistic, believing that China, taking a cue from Japan and South Korea, must “learn Eastern democracy.” He even thinks it’s inevitable: “Nobody can stop the progress of history,” he says. An interview with Chen Guangcheng by Isaac Stone Fish accompanies the list. In it, Chen discusses how the central government allows abuses by local authorities—see Guizhou journalist Li Yuanlong’s detention last week for a recent example—and the chances of change or even revolution in China’s near future. The central government definitely knew I was illegally detained at home. As for how the local authorities invented lies to frame me to put me in prison, as for how they persecuted my entire family, [the central government] didn’t necessarily know about the details. Yet now, six months later, I still haven’t seen the central government follow the ...
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