I have long admired Secretary Hillary Clinton as a female world leader. She inspired a whole generation—myself included—at the UN Women's Conference in 1995 when she declared that "women's rights are human rights." She spoke those oft-quoted words in Beijing years ago, but what happened to Chen Guangcheng under her watch in Beijing yesterday was a betrayal of these very same rights she vowed to uphold.
This is because Chen Guangcheng is not just a "dissident." In fact, he did not even advocate against the central government. He is a folk hero in China, a defender of women, children, and the poor. Chen has worked tirelessly on behalf of women who face forced abortion and sterilization at the hands of the officials who should be protecting their citizens' rights.
Words simply cannot express Chen's value as a human rights advocate. He is fighting one of the most brutal state-sanctioned human rights abuses in the world.
As a self-taught lawyer, he became troubled at the plight of young women in his province of Shandong. Under the one-child policy, women are regularly subjected to invasive "pregnancy checks," and officials brutalize them if they try to refuse. If they become pregnant, they are forced to undergo abortions, even very late in their terms—and many are sterilized under threat. The numbers are sobering:
- 400 million babies have been forcibly aborted or killed after birth.
- Because of the one-child policy and a cultural preference for males, one out of every six girls is aborted, killed, or abandoned.
- There are now nearly 40 million "missing" women.
- Sex trafficking and crime are skyrocketing in China in conjunction with the bachelor boom. Women are increasingly commoditized, with traffickers selling girls to families as child brides.
- These social trends impact women in alarming ways: suicide is the leading cause of death for young women in China, and China is the only country in the world where female suicide rates outstrip those of males. 500 women kill themselves every day—that's one every three minutes.
This is the evil that Chen was fighting. Please pause and think about that for a moment. Pray for this incredibly brave man.
In 2005, Chen investigated the methods of the one-child policy enforcers in his region, and he found that 7,000 women had undergone forced abortion is his area alone. He filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 130,000 women who suffered forced abortions and sterilizations. Retaliation came swiftly: the government imprisoned Chen for four years for "obstructing traffic," and kept him under lockdown in his own home since his 2010 release. There, a pack of guards continually harassed Chen and his wife along with their six-year-old daughter.
Last week, I and other advocates of freedom in China watched with joy as Chen Guangcheng made his bid for freedom. Truth mirrored art in his escape, which played out like The Shawshank Redemption. (Chinese web censors even placed "Shawshank" on their list of banned search terms.) The blind lawyer scaled a wall, crossed a river, and evaded eight rings of vigilant guards to break free. He then traveled on foot through fields for twenty hours before meeting activist He Peirong at a pre-arranged location. She and others risked their lives to take him to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, where they knew he would find freedom.
But we let them down. Shamefully, U.S. officials encouraged Chen to leave the embassy and stay in China, in accordance with the Chinese government's request. He left the embassy yesterday morning under duress after being told that the Chinese authorities were going to take his wife and children back to Shandong and remove the possibility of reunification. The U.S. denied that any coercion took place—but if this is not coercion, then what is? What has become of the American government? Is it a mere enabler of the Chinese officials' brutal treatment of Chen, plus the millions of women and children he defended?