Skip to content Skip to navigation

Chen Guangcheng’s Escape Highlights the Bankruptcy of Beijing’s Stability Maintenance Model

April 28, 2012

18th Party Congress Watch (9)

Gao Wenqian, HRIC Senior Policy Advisor

This has been an eventful year for China—great shows one after another. The Bo Xilai affair has yet to wind down when blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng managed to escape right under the authorities’ watch. Chen even used a video to ask Premier Wen Jiabao for three things: 1) punish, in accordance with the law, those who had committed crimes against him and his family, 2) ensure the safety of his family, and 3) thoroughly investigate corruption involving funds for stability maintenance. Like a single stone causing a thousand ripples, the incident has attracted close attention from Chinese civil society and the international media and will have a huge political impact in China.

Chen’s escape from illegal house arrest has a greater significance than highlighting a case of human rights abuse. It is bound to aggravate the power struggle within the Party before the 18th Party Congress and affect Sino-American relations. The latest word is that Chen is currently “in an absolutely safe place,” presumed to mean the U.S. Embassy in Beijing even though the U.S. Embassy has said “No Comment.” Furthermore, Chen's escape occurred just before the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held on May 3-4 in Beijing. In this light, Chen has become a second Fang Lizhi,1 an unavoidable problem in Sino-American relations.

Chen Guangcheng is an expression of China’s conscience. He has long been a defender of rights at the grassroots in Shandong. He sacrificed himself and his family to save his fellow villages from suffering, and harbors no regrets for doing so. According to Chen’s good friend and fellow activist, Hu Jia, Chen has made it clear that he does not wish to leave China, which is truly admirable. That the Chinese authorities could so severely restrict the movements of this blind man who had served his sentence in full and was already free is completely illegal and inhumane. Chen’s house arrest has ignited the anger of Chinese civil society and been denounced by the international community.

Chen Guangcheng’s escape highlights the bankruptcy of the Chinese authorities’ stability maintenance model as it now exists. That Chen, a blind man, could escape from under their strict control and through the cordons of guards surrounding his home is a great mockery of the stability maintenance system. The authorities have expended vast amounts to construct this big net of stability maintenance, yet it is full of flaws, with holes so large that they were unable to keep a blind man from escaping. This is a major blow to the stability maintenance faction within the system, and is bound to open fierce debate in the higher echelons of the CPC regarding the path and method of China’s development from this point forward.

At the same time, Chen Guangcheng’s escape is a great inspiration for the struggle of civil society against the government. But we should not be too optimistic. China is at a historical crossroads and the authorities can choose between two paths: The first is to take this opportunity to thoroughly make a fresh start, abandon stability maintenance, promote political reform, and fundamentally solve the problems in society accumulated over the past years. The second is to refuse to come to their senses and follow the path to darkness: agitated by Chen's escape, the authorities could escalate stability maintenance measures and further strengthen the system, and use even harsher methods to suppress civil society. Let us wait and see which path they will choose.

1. Fang Lizhi, a Chinese astrophysicist from Hefei, walked into the U.S. Embassy in Beijing one day after the June 4, 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests. He stayed there until June 1990 when he was permitted to leave China. ^

Explore Topics

709 Crackdown Access to Information Access to Justice Administrative Detention All about law Arbitrary Detention
Asset Transparency Bilateral Dialogue Black Jail Book Review Business And Human Rights Censorship
Charter 08 Children Chinese Law Circumvention technology Citizen Activism Citizen Journalists
Citizen Participation Civil Society Commentary Communist Party Of China Constitution Consumer Safety
Contending views Corruption Counterterrorism Courageous Voices Cultural Revolution Culture Matters
Current affairs Cyber Security Daily Challenges Democratic And Political Reform Demolition And Relocation  Dissidents
Education Elections Enforced Disappearance Environment Ethnic Minorities EU-China
Family Planning Farmers Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression Freedom of Press Freedom of Religion
Government Accountability Government regulation Government transparency Hong Kong House Arrest HRIC Translation
Hukou Human Rights Council Human rights developments Illegal Search And Detention Inciting Subversion Of State Power Information Control 
Information technology Information, Communications, Technology (ICT) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) International Human Rights International perspective International Relations
Internet Internet Governance JIansanjiang lawyers' rights defense Judicial Reform June Fourth Kidnapping
Labor Camps Labor Rights Land, Property, Housing Lawyer's rights Lawyers Legal System
Letters from the Mainland Major Event (Environment, Food Safety, Accident, etc.) Mao Zedong Microblogs (Weibo) National People's Congress (NPC) New Citizens Movement
Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Olympics One country, two systems Online Activism Open Government Information Personal stories
Police Brutality Political commentary Political Prisoner Politics Prisoner Of Conscience Probing history
Propaganda Protests And Petitions Public Appeal Public Security Racial Discrimination Reeducation-Through-Labor
Rights Defenders Rights Defense Rule Of Law Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Special Topic State compensation
State Secrets State Security Subversion Of State Power Surveillance Technology Thoughts/Theories
Tiananmen Mothers Tibet Torture Typical cases United Nations US-China 
Uyghurs, Uighurs Vulnerable Groups Women Youth Youth Perspective