From the outset, Chen seems to be just another Chinese dissident brutally treated by the authorities, however, there are more to that.
In the opening statement at the Council on Foreign Relation (31 May, 2012), Professor Cohen of the New York University made it clear that Chen “had never studied law” when “the State Department” asked him to meet Chen nine years ago (that is in 2003).
Despite such an open piece of information that linked Chen to the “State Department” in a forum that was packed with journalists, I only managed to find the full content of Cohen’s opening statement via YouTube, the Council on Foreign Relation and the New York University websites.
Amazingly, as far as my research is concerned, none of the news media during and after the forum appear to show any interest in persuading or reporting the relationship between the State Department and Chen. Just a few examples, none of these media report a thing on the content of Cohen’s opening statement: The NY Daily News, The Daily Beast, USA Today, Time, VOA, WNYC, NBC New York and Radio Free Asia. [Note: simply Google “Chen Guangcheng address Council on Foreign Relation” to find more examples].
Interestingly, while Chen has never being a lawyer, soon after the public forum at the Council on Foreign Relation, many journalists and writers continue to call Chen the ‘blind lawyer’, ‘bare-foot lawyer’ or ‘self-taught lawyer’. Such misinformation is so widespread that, an article in the Ethnics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (12 June) went to the extent to call Chen the “Blind Attorney”.
In short, the news media appears to have reached some kind of unspoken understanding on what to say and what not to say about Chen. We could perhaps call this an ‘inter-media agenda setting’. As a result, I have noticed that there are more than a dozen of contradictory and murky stories on how Chen “escaped” from his village without any mainstream media making any effort to clarify the facts.
I believe that below is another area of Chen’s story that lacks credibility.
The brutal “beating” of Chen and his wife – How true are the claims?
In the YouTube video released after his “escape”, Chen has a detailed account on how he and his wife were being beaten up in his own home. The translation by the Shanghai List and a Chinese blogger would probably be the only two comprehensive transcripts one could find on the internet. Both transcripts omitted certain minor details, so I will extract the appropriate part from each and add a few words of my own in “bold” to form a complete translation. The following is what Chen says about the beating:
“Some 70 to 80 officials “entered my home”, none of them were wearing uniforms, beat my family without any legal approvals and forbid my family from seeking medical assistance despites injuries … more than a dozen men assaulted my wife. They pinned her down and wrapped her in blanket, beating and kicking her for several hours. They did the same to me … My wife’s orbital bone was broken, you could feel it … you could still feel obvious protuberance on her 5th lumbar and her sacrum. Her 10th and 12th ribs also have feel-able protuberance.”
The Washington Post (28 April) reported the YouTube video with a hyperlink but without a transcript to the video, and without mentioning the number of people involved in the beating and the duration of the beating. This is how Washington Post describes the beating: “He (Chen) detailed beatings that had been inflicted on him and his wife, injuring his wife’s back, ribs, elbow and eye, while being denied medical care.”
The Reuters (27 April) quoted a statement from He Peirong, another Chinese dissident: “Chen is passing blood and is very weak” and that “They broke some of his wife’s bones which have yet to heal.”
The Democracy Digest (27 April) quoted a statement made by Phelim Kine, Senior Asia Researcher at the Human Right Watch: “Chen has been in extremely poor health due to severe multiple beatings by his captors.”
The US government funded Radio Free Asia alleged that Chen suffered “20 months of beatings and house arrest”.
[Note: To find more incredible reports on how Chen and his wife been beaten by authorities, simply Google “Chen and wife beaten by authority”.]
When Chen left the US embassy to the hospital, the initial statement made by the embassy is for Chen to treat his foot injury (The Telegraph, 2 May). A few days later the Foreign Policy (7 May) claimed that: Chen is known to suffer from “chronic gastroenteritis”, which he “developed during his months in Chinese jail”. An American doctor in the embassy noted that Chen “was found to be bleeding profusely from his rectum” and suspected he could have advanced colon cancer,” forcing the Americans to “transfer Chen to a hospital” quickly.
The irony is, given the severity of Chen and his wife’s “brutal” treatments by the Chinese authorities and their poor state of health, it is hard to understand why there wasn’t any arrangement for Chen and his wife to visit a US hospital for an examination with at least an X-ray of his wife’s fractured bones when they arrived at the U.S..
Contrary to the reports in regards to Chen’s health, Chen’s activities since leaving the US embassy tell otherwise – Chen was not only healthy but energetic:
He spoke to the Washington Post while on his way to the hospital in the embassy van; he reportedly also spoke to Mrs Clinton which he said: “I want to kiss you”; he accepted the Congressional Hearing while in the hospital in Beijing; within days of arriving in the US, he received exclusive interview by individual media such as the CNN and NYR; Chen has again spoken to the Congressional Hearing for the second time in less than two weeks; he faced media in a public forum such as the Council on Foreign Relation; he was reportedly negotiating a book deal through Robert Barnett, a Washington attorney whose clients includes President Obama and Mrs. Clinton. In fact, believe it or not, Chen answer qestions through a spokesman.
Chen spoke a lot since he left the US embassy in Beijing. He repeatedly spoke about his cousin being tortured or beaten up after his “escape”. However, in an interview with CNN five days after arriving the U.S., Chen declined to reveal details about what happened during his four years of imprisonment from 2006 for “damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic”. Chen also declined to describe the periodic beatings he says he and his wife endured during 18 months of detention in their village. Chen told CNN: “I don’t want to talk about it right now … Let’s just say that my suffering was beyond imagination.”
Perhaps, Chen’s trusted adviser – Prof. Cohen, who “spoke to Chen multiple times” while Chen is in the US embassy comments about Chen on the Morning Sun on 21st May means something: Chen is in “admirable shape.”
Have a look at the photo of Chen and Hu Jia on the Guardian (27 April) released by Hu Jia to the world after he help Chen to produce his YouTube Video. Is there any sign of a poor health Chen, or a stressful Hu Jia?
If the Chinese authorities were so brutal in their treatment of these dissidents, would both of them still be able to appear so relaxed in the photo?
According to the US funded – Reporter Without Border (27 June, 2011) and the New York Times (28 April, 2012), Hu Jia has been “under constant surveillance.” However, like Chen “escape”, Hu appears to be able to move around and meet Chen at will, and then produced and upload the Chen’s video on YouTube.
In fact, while the New York Times reported on the 28th of April that Hu Jia and others who involved in helping Chen escaped are “now at risk”. On the 9th of July, Hu Jia has apparently again managed to “slip through” security surveillance and meet with some petitioners and produces another video on the internet.
Again, we have to ask ourselves: “Can we trust the media?”
The truth is, Chen is not a simple dissident. Cohen short opening statement at the Council on Foreign Relation had given away a series of important information. This is exactly what Cohen said:
“It was just nine years ago this week that I met Mr. Chen and Mrs. Chen here. I told the State — I told the State Department people I was too busy to meet them. This man had never studied law. I hadn’t finished grading my exams. I had to go to China. But they said, this is somebody you’re going to want to meet. So I said, half an hour only. And we ended up talking about four hours and became good friends. And later in the year when I went to China, he came up to Beijing, the Tsinghua Law School, then he invited my wife and me down to their humble village in Shandong province. It was an enlightening experience, and we have been friends since, although for seven years until May 19th, we hadn’t seen each other.”
From the above statement, we now know that:
1) Cohen, a 72 year old professor (at the time) met Chen in person two times in 2003: first time in the US in May for four hours through the arrangement of the State Department; second meeting in China in later part of 2003;
2) Since then, Cohen hadn’t seen Chen in person for 7 years till 19 May, 2012. That means, Cohen continue to see Chen between 2004 and the first five months of 2005;
The questions are:
Who sponsored Chen to the United State?
Besides the arrangement by the State department to meet with Cohen, who else did the state department arranged Chen to meet while he was in the US? For what purpose?
Who set Chen agenda in China since 2003?
What did Chen do before 2003 that attracted the State Department interest in him?
Why are the mainstream media so reluctant to tell Chen story before 2005?
Is Chen a dissident?
Unfortunately, we can only leave these for next time.
Ethic of Western Journalism: The evolution of Chen Guangcheng’s “Escape” stories (17 July 2012)
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