For over a month now we’ve been covering the story of Chen Guangcheng, thanks largely to Yaxue’s “Heard on Weibo” section. We’ve seen it grow from an online protest, to manifesting in the physical world with activists attempting to enter Chen’s village only to be beaten back time and again (this link is an incredible account of such a group). The issue is now widely known, and the angry question seems to be “How can Linyi’s government treat people this way?”
But now the question is starting to shift to “How can the central government allow local thugs to treat people this way?”
In China, calling for action from the Central government would typically be an ineffective approach. Most of the high-profile cases are never officially acknowledged, and so the government can ignore any calls for action (since “nothing” is happening). However, the Central government has acknowledged the case of Chen Guangcheng in an article in the Global Times:
“The city of Linyi is now shrouded in controversy. The claim that the treatment of Chen Guangchen has violated strict legal procedure and human rights standards may not be simply invented.” – Don’t turn a village into a pressure cooker, Oct. 12, 2011
It would seem that a country that values human rights, as China claims it does, should launch an investigation into the abuses and take action to stop them. Global Times offered this weak excuse in the same piece:
“The conflict in Linyi has more to do with local governance level than nationwide political worries. Judging a specific rural area by the highest international human rights standards may be easy, but it hardly reflects reality.”
If human rights are not upheld at a local level how can it be said that they even exist at a national level?
At this point the Central government’s failure to intervene on behalf of Chen Guangcheng, a man who is being held prisoner in his own home without even the pretext of criminal charges, shows a disturbing lack of concern for human rights at the highest level of Government.
Until further statements are made, we have to assume that the government’s proposal made in the first article still stands. The suggestion is that if we all ignore the problem, the local government will solve it.
As I’ve discussed before, the government is often too concerned with its image (face) to take action. Often they much prefer denying problems, than working on fixing the cause. In this case they should weigh their choices.
Inaction is leading to a more active and vocal campaign by netizens, in which they are gaining practical experience in communicating with international media without alienating domestic citizens. These activists could very quickly turn to issues that are far more widespread and more “sensitive” which would be increasingly difficult to contain. Chen’s case is so clear cut and widely known, that it is being openly discussed on Chinese social networks, drawing in people who would have otherwise never been involved in political issues. Several netizens have already called the Central government’s motives into question.
Visualize instead the government sending in police or army units to rescue Chen and his family from the local government. It would be a great step in restoring people’s faith in the central government, and would allow them to reassert that China is improving human rights. It would send a strong warning to other local governments that this kind of blatant abuse will not be tolerated in the future (which is inline with how the Party communicates), and would also allow China to avoid further international attention on its embarrassing human rights record.
“Good, this what serving the people really is!”
“Chongqing has been doing such a good job these past two years fighting corruption/crime, always at the forefront of the country, and deserves to be encouraged and imitated! Ding!”
“A miracle! In this day and age, there are still people who do what people do [do the right thing]. So hard to come by!!!”
Hopefully the Central government will recognize that the plight of Chen Guangcheng can either serve as a continual reminder to the international community of how human rights are still neglected in China, or Chen can become a symbol of China’s new push to improve itself. First though they must accept that Chen Guangcheng is not simply a problem for Linyi, but for the whole nation.