Who is Chen Guangcheng – Fighting Forced Abortion and His Trial

By Yaxue Cao

…Continued from yesterday

Forced Abortion and Sterilization

In July 2004, the People’s Government of Linyi issued a directive to step up population control efforts. Unsatisfied with the results, Linyi government issued a more forceful directive in February 2005, marking the beginning of a vicious campaign in the 9 counties and 3 districts under its jurisdiction. The measures included:

Raids—In the middle of the night when villagers were sound asleep, family control officials and their hired thugs would kick people’s doors open or enter their property by jumping over the enclosing walls, pulling everyone in the house away regardless of age, as long as someone in their family was hiding to avoid abortion or sterilization. Resisters were beaten on the spot. One house after another, they shoved people into vehicles and took them to local family control offices to attend the so-called “study session.”

Torture—Almost everyone was tortured in the “study session.” The thugs forced people to undress and then beat them with clubs. They slapped faces, pulled hair, stepped on people’s heads, or lashed them on their insteps with leather shoes. They put people in sacks and beat them, or forced them to squat on one foot. They denied people sleep, water and food. They ordered family members to beat each other. They cursed and spewed verbal abuses.

Some “study sessions” charged the villagers a daily fee on top of torture.

At first the detention was limited to direct family members, then it was expanded to relatives and neighbors, and then to the relatives of the neighbors, and then to entire villages. As a result, many pregnant women who had gone into hiding came back following their family’s pleas and subjected themselves to abortion, often late-term and horrendously brutal (such as sticking a long needle into the uterus), and sterilization.

A few committed suicide and one man was beaten to death and thrown out on the riverbank.

According to Chen Guangcheng’s rough estimation, about 12%, or 130,000, of Linyi’s population had been subjected to forced sterilization, and at least 520,000 people had been harassed, fined, detained or tortured during the period.

China’s family planning laws guarantee citizens an “informed choice” (whatever that means) in abortion and sterilization. A senior official with the national family planning commission in Beijing told Washington Post that practices in Linyi were “definitely illegal” and “if  the Linyi complaints are true, or even partly true, it’s because local officials do not understand the new demands of the Chinese leadership regarding family planning work.”

That explains nothing.

According to the rights lawyers who worked with Chen Guangcheng, the cause was the leadership of Linyi, led by Li Qun (李群), the then Party Secretary of Linyi Municipality, who was criticized by the provincial leadership for population control failures.

The same Washington Post article also pointed out that “the ability to limit population growth remains a top consideration in party deliberations about promotions and raises. In much of China, an official who misses a population target, even if he or she excels in other fields, is dismissed, according to researchers and family planning officials.”

Chen Guangcheng’s Involvement

One night he heard and recorded the wailing of his neighbor’s child. Over the phone, he heard more people telling their stories in tears. He cried with them.

Starting in April 2005, he and his wife hit the road with notepads and a recording pen. From village to village they met with victims and listened to their stories. He wrote up complaints for them, collected evidence, and answered their questions. He physically confronted the family planning officials and warned them of their illegal practices.

It wasn’t easy. Some wouldn’t dare to tell the truth; others were afraid to sue the government; most of the courts didn’t accept filings. In filed cases, villagers were threatened into withdrawing their case.

listening to women, via Washington Post

Knowing his helplessness, he travelled to Beijing several times to ask help from rights lawyers, activists and journalists to come to Linyi to investigate. From April to August, several batches of lawyers and scholars from Beijing investigated in Linyi and exposed wide-spread brutal practices. News outlets in the US reported the matter, including the one by Philip Pan of the Washington Post.

All the time these were going on, the visitors led by Chen Guangcheng were followed, watched, and thwarted.

Chen Guangcheng with Teng Biao’s team and villagers

Confinement, Escape, Kidnapping, Beating, Imprisonment, Isolation

Beginning August 11, 2005, Chen Guangcheng and his wife were confined in their home and watched by dozens of people scattered around the area. In the night of August 25, Chen Guangcheng managed to slip out in the dark, shake off guards running after him, and eventually arrive in Beijing, but not without taking detours through Shanghai and Nanjing.

In the afternoon of September 6, 2005, six men who claimed to be Public Security officers, without showing any ID or legal documents, seized Chen Guangcheng and took him away in a Santana sedan (license plate 鲁B13237) in front of three witnesses, including a Chinese lawyer and Philip Pan of Washington Post.

Badly beaten in the car, that night he was taken back to Yinan County to a hotel room. On the morning of September 7, Liu Jie (刘杰), the head of Linyi Public Security Bureau paid him a visit. “It is enough to give you a five-year sentence just for being interviewed by Washington Post. Another interview, you’ll get ten years!” He then suggested that Chen Guangcheng withdraw from exposing the abuses. Chen refused.

After a 26-hour hunger strike, he was sent home, but was under close watch and not allowed to leave. In the following days his telephone was disconnected, computer removed, and cell phone signal disrupted. No outsiders were allowed to go into his house. He was completely cut off from the outside world.

From this time to early 2006, rights lawyers and other friends and activists, mostly from Beijing, visited Linyi hoping to meet Chen Guangcheng, but were beaten and turned away. Villagers who protested Chen’s confinement or who tried to help the visitors were repeatedly beaten and detained. More international media outlets reported what was happening in Dong Shi Gu, and human rights organizations called for his release. Chen Guangcheng himself was beaten several times, as was his wife.

On March 11, 2006, Chen Guangcheng and two others were arrested. By then he had already been under house arrest for 197 days.

On June 11, 90 days after Chen Guangcheng was held incommunicado without authorization, his wife received a notice of criminal detention issued by Yinan County Public Security Bureau for allegedly “gathering crowds to obstruct traffic” and “destruction of property.”

By then his wife had written letters to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, Chinese President and Prime Minister respectively, and UN Secretary General Annan, pleading for justice. After Chen Guangcheng was formally detained, she wrote to Deng Pufang, the son of Deng Xiaoping and Chairman of China’s Disabled Persons’ Federation.

To publicize Chen Guangcheng’s case, lawyers, scholars and friends in Beijing planned a press conference on June 16, and Chen’s mother and son were to attend. But the press conference had to be cancelled, because every single organizer had been called on, followed or confined by authorities in Beijing that day. Most shockingly, Cheng Guangcheng’s mother and his toddler son were kidnapped outside Teng Biao’s apartment building by ten unidentified men and spirited away in a van without a license plate. They were brought back to Yinan to the home of one of Chen Guangcheng’s brothers.

Chen’s lawyers were allowed to meet with him in the Yinan detention center. They were later prevented by thugs from visiting Yuan Weijing, Chen’s wife, to discuss the case. While in his hotel room, Li Jinsong (李劲松), one of Chen’s defense lawyers, received telephone threats from an unidentified man. “Have you lived enough? Have you?” The man menaced repeatedly.

In Beijing, national security personnel called on the lawyers and activists; while in Linyi, Chen Guangcheng’s lawyers were followed, threatened, beaten on the street by unidentified thugs, had their camera smashed and their cars overturned.

The Trial and Retrial

The trial of Chen Guangcheng was held on August 18, 2006. The night before, six or seven men accused his lawyers of stealing bags and were held in police custody until the trial was over the next day. Chen Guangcheng protested in the courtroom and rejected lawyers the court assigned to him, but the court forged ahead with the trial anyway. On that day, hundreds of policemen blocked the traffic around the courthouse, and prohibited anyone from attending the trial, including Chen Guangcheng’s mother, his wife and his relatives. People who came from outside Linyi to attend the trial were being detained, blocked or beaten. On August 24, the Yinan County People’s Court convicted Chen Guangcheng of “intentional destruction of property” and “gathering crowds to disrupt traffic,” and sentenced him to four years and three months in jail.

“Gathering crowds to disrupt traffic” referred to the incident on March 11, 2006. That day, Chen Guangcheng’s neighbor Chen Guangyu was attacked on his way to the village store to buy cigarettes by four men who covered his head and beat him badly. Chen Guangcheng and other enraged villagers marched to protest the beating. Several dozen police blocked their way and surrounded them on national highway 205, causing traffic disruption. “Intentional destruction of property” referred to earlier damage of property used by the guards and overturning police cars.

Later, two villagers who were “key witnesses” in Chen’s case called his lawyers to relate how the police tortured them to obtain testimonies. They were tied to chairs with metal chains and kept for days without sleep. They were deprived of food and water and not allowed to use the toilet. They were forced to recite testimonies that had been written by the police. At this time, it was still legal for police to submit testimony that been obtained through torture.

On October 30, the Linyi Intermediate People’s Court overturned the case on the basis of insufficient evidence, and referred it back to the lower court for retrial after reviewing the appeal by Chen Guangcheng’s lawyers.


The retrial was held on November 27. The Yinan County People’s Court again convicted Chen Guangcheng for the same crimes and upheld the same sentence.

(Visit here to read more about the legal aspect of Chen’s case.)


15 responses to “Who is Chen Guangcheng – Fighting Forced Abortion and His Trial”

  1. […] Seeing Red in China Your guide to modern China Skip to content HomeAbout…About TomAbout Yaxue CaoAbout CaseyComplete ArchiveSuggested SitesChina Books to ReadThe Best China MoviesMap of China中文 ← Growing People Power – Netizens are changing China for the better Who is Chen Guangcheng – Fighting forced abortion and his trial → […]

  2. […] 见识红色中国:谁是陈光诚(2)——英语链接 […]

  3. Yaxue C. says:

    “Asked about Chen at a press briefing last week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said he had no information. Government officials and police in Linyi told the Guardian they had never heard of the case, nor of visitors being attacked.”

    Do you have a word to describe the shamelessness? If you do, I want to know to improve my English.

    • Lao Why? says:

      Shameless works pretty well.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      I sympathize with the search for a better word. Shameless is adequate to the sense of outrage we feel in this case, and in any case where “professional” spokespeople do their bosses’ bidding. Indeed, I’m reminded of the way the full weight of the US government apparatus was deployed to deny torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere. In fact, having now admitted to using torture, the mission for some has become to justify its use, which is surely taking depravity to a new level. Perhaps in your next post you could post photos of the contemptuous Dick Cheney alongside Li Qun.

      Have a look at this website, Yaxue: http://chir.ag/projects/tip-of-my-tongue/. Put shameless in the “word meaning” box. Try a few iterations and see what you come up with.

      • Tom says:

        It’s important to remember though that Chen is not the only one in China being held illegally (according to Chinese law), there are many others who have been beaten, detained, and cut off from the outside world. Chen is a symbol of that.

        In no way does this excuse the US gov’t for what is going on in GITMO, nor do the US gov’t’s actions excuse anything being done in China. The Party is insistent that the US should not be the standard when it comes to human rights, but they have yet to suggest an alternative. Clearly, as citizens, we would hope that this new standard would come without fear of extra-legal reprisals that are covered up by the state.

        For the time being, we’ll have to wait for Li Qun to acknowledge that Chen is even being held before he can “rise” to the level of human decency that is on par with Dick Cheney.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think travesty of justice might come close to explaining it. I am not Chinese but I live in China and have a friend who suffered a forced abortion 3 weeks before her due date. My heart breaks for all the decent Chinese people I know who are so powerless. I have no idea what can, should be done.

  5. […] …Continued from earlier posts, this is part 3. Part 1, Part 2 […]

  6. Lao Why? says:

    Since we are now introducing Gitmo into this, let’s look at the 2 situations. US is in a war on terror. Those prisoners were prisoners of war, captured in armed conflict. Chen Guangchen and all the women whom he represented and families of those women are innocent nonthreatening citizens. While I am not at all an advocate of the US methods, I see a huge moral gap between these two situations. If China had been faced with a 9/11 event, would it have done much different?

    Do you have a different feeling towards a woman that is pregnant, her family and he lawyer as opposed to a terrorist who wants to shoot you, blow up your family and terrorize your community? Should they be treated the same way?

    • Tom says:

      I thought I had nipped this in the bud.

      Gitmo is irrelevant, because it in no way justifies or excuses what is happening in Chen’s case, it only serves as a distraction from the original discussion. Even if there were deeper parallels between Chen’s case and what happened in Gitmo, it would simply mean that both countries were in the wrong.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      I think Tom is right to nip the Gitmo comparison in the bud because that was not the focus of my critique. In fact I was following up on Yaxue’s “shameless” comment by pointing out that all behaviour of this type is contemptible.

      You are right to say that what it comes down to is that both are wrong. Still, Tom, I would argue that denying the existence of Chen Guangchen in the face of the terrible deeds everyone knows to have happened is childish and not on par with the deeds of Bush and Cheney. A still possible outcome is that Li Qun (as one example) will see his career destroyed and may yet be punished. Cheney, on the other hand, has committed crimes which he first denied and then admitted, only to follow up by justifying his depravity all the while hiding behind the full force of a legal and political system fully unwilling to act. That some choose to remain unaware of the illegality of the so-called “war on terror” and the operation at Gitmo and the injustices committed on its mostly innocent and illegally detained prisoners. The issue under discussion is arbitrary detention and punishment, so the comparison is absolutely appropriate. The same would apply in a discussion the death penalty in China, which ought never to be viewed in isolation, especially in light of the continued application of the death penalty in some US states. I would say the same thing about the continued “4th world” conditions of indigenous people’s in Canada, an ongoing shame that Chinese officials opportunistically bring up whenever Canada’s PM raises the issue of Tibet. That these types of things are still legal and/or tolerated in fully democratic societies should have us wondering at the imperfection of our own systems. In the face of these imperfections, and particularly in light of our unwillingness to see these matters as commensurable, the door is left open for the nonsensical anti-rights talk of venal CPP politicians.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        “That some choose to remain unaware of the illegality of the so-called “war on terror” and the operation at Gitmo and the injustices committed on its mostly innocent and illegally detained prisoners”, merely provides a model for Chinese officials to follow.

  7. […] Who is Chen Guangcheng – Fighting forced abortion and his trial (Seeing Red in China) […]

  8. […] Global Times tried to spin this story, saying that the laws to protect women from this treatment were already in place and that it was simply a problem of enforcement. I think most readers of this blog already understand that this is not the only law in China that is flaunted by local officials. However the most despicable thing about this editorial was that just weeks ago the same paper denounced Chen Guangcheng as a criminal – his unspoken crime was opposing forced abortions in Linyi. […]

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