Chinese immigrants in the Mission reacted on Thursday with a wide range of opinions about the saga of the blind Chinese dissident and self-taught, “barefoot” lawyer, Chen Guangcheng.
In Communist China, any citizen who dares to go against the government is sure to face consequences. “If they don’t like you,” said Theresa Bao, a Chinese immigrant, “they will arrest you.”
Such is the case for Chen, who was under house arrest for 19 months for challenging forced abortions under China’s one-child policy. Chen recently escaped to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and is currently at a Chinese hospital after being pressured to leave the Embassy. He is now pleading for asylum in America for himself and his family.
Mission Loc@l spoke with members of the Mission’s Chinese community about the dissident. The neighborhood’s Asian population, currently 11,129, increased by 8.2 percent between 2000 and the 2010 Census. The most significant increase occurred in census tract 228.01, bounded by South Van Ness and York streets and 21st and 17th streets.
Qing Deng, 86 and a Chinese immigrant, believes every country has its own rules, and people must respect those rules. “China doesn’t need other countries to teach it or tell it what to do,” said Deng, who learned of Chen on KTSF, an Asian American local news channel.
Born and raised in the United States, Yvonne Li, in her 20s, gives a nod to that. “In China you have to follow rules and accept the punishment.” Li doesn’t think the United States should interfere with Chen’s Chinese issue. It’s much like family matters, she said. “You don’t get your nose in other people’s business.”
But Theresa Bao, a Chinese immigrant who listens to Chinese news radio station KSJO 92.3 FM, thinks U.S. interference is necessary in Chen’s case. “I hope America can help him,” she said. “Otherwise it will be so hard to get out.”
Yesterday Chen told the Daily Beast that he wanted to fly to the United States with Hillary Clinton, who is currently in China and expects to leave at the end of this week. “He’s asking too much, it’s kind of funny,” said Cindy Wen, who also listens to KTSF. Wen doesn’t think the U.S. government will budge.
Regardless of what the government does, Deng believes that if China doesn’t punish Chen, other Chinese will follow in his path. China must make it clear that laws must be obeyed, he said.
“If he gets away with it, it will prove the Chinese government is useless,” agreed Connie Sun, who also learned of Chen by watching her daily news source, KTSF. “Chen should be punished,” she said. “This guy is wrong.”
Bao admires Chen and his bravery, and is concerned about his family. His two young children will be affected and will have a hard time growing up in China if they stay, she said.
Deng believes that Chen is brave, but that he can’t succeed without a plan. Chen’s cause is right, he said, but his actions are wrong. “It’s not about what the person fights for. It’s how the person fights for it.”
Sun believes that Chen has a right to be safe, but believes he is only thinking of how this situation will benefit him. Instead, Sun says, Chen must think logically for the whole country.
“It’s tricky,” said Wen, expressing concern for human rights violations.
“China is not completely do-whatever-you-want,” said Bao. “They focus on you.”
Recently Chen was given permission to study law abroad. “China is being too polite this time,” said Wen. “Their attitude is softer.” But Bao believes that if Chen stays and studies in China, the Chinese government will always keep an eye on him.
History shows that Chinese dissidents can be quite influential, attracting publicity the Chinese government doesn’t want. The dissidents are supported by human rights organizations and receive awards — like Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his fight for human rights. He’s currently serving an 11-year jail sentence for publicly expressing his views on Chinese political reform.
Bao remembers China’s cultural revolution from 1966 to 1977. “We didn’t want to go against the government,” she said. “We didn’t want to get in trouble. I’m still a little scared,” she added, shivering.
She’s seen changes, however. “It’s getting better than Mao’s time,” she said, referring to Chairman Mao Zedong, the father of Communist China. Back then, Bao said, if a picture of Mao fell to the floor or was held upside down, people would be sent to prison. Those kinds of things don’t happen much any more, she said, and students are becoming braver.
China is a work in progress, Wen concluded, and its political reform is evolving slowly but surely.