Chinese Netizens to United States: No Need To Apologize for Chen Guangcheng

Chen reunites with (some) family after leaving the U.S. embassy

Don’t look away, even for one minute. Events have taken a dramatic turn in the case of Chen Guangcheng, the celebrated rights lawyer-turned daring escape artist-turned diplomatic impasse.

Much of China now knows that after his daring escape from house arrest, Chen spent six days in the United States embassy before being reunited with (some of) his family at a Beijing hospital. He reached an agreement to stay in China to study whilst being protected from the local thugs who had tormented him for so long. (Much of China does not know that Chen then begged to renege on this agreement and flee China, and then may have reversed course again.

These events must be embarrassing for China’s government. But instead of reacting with grace–or at least, as suggested in these pages, heaping blame on the local officials directly responsible–China’s government has reacted with a face-saving tantrum, blaming the United States and demanding that it “reflect on its policies and methods” and refrain from “interfering” again in China’s sovereign affairs.

Chinese netizens are sitting up, taking notice, and–despite continued blockage of Chen’s name and popular code names–chiming in.  But whose side are they on when the Chinese and American governments, and Chen himself, all seem to be saying different things? (The identities of quoted netizens have been anonymized due to the sensitive nature of the topic.) 

Should the U.S. apologize?

Instead of asking America to apologize, netizens mostly think the Chinese government should tidy up its own house first. Many called the Chinese government response “shameless” and lamented the fact that the U.S. embassy had become the de facto “Letters and Visits Office” (信访办), the appeal of last resort for Chinese aggrieved by local injustice. One netizen asked a simple question: “Why do the citizens of one country have to rely on another country to protect them?” Another wrote, “Our own guy runs into [their embassy] himself and they want others to apologize. What the heck kind of logic is this?” 

Chen in Chaoyang Hospital, where he may have had second thoughts

Some were even angrier. “Can’t believe they have the nerve to ask others to apologize,” one wrote. “This is how America should respond: China, please careful consider your own policy and behavior, protect your own citizens, ensure they truly enjoy the lawful rights of a citizen. Don’t force them to run to other countries for protection. China, please apologize and thoroughly investigate this matter, punish those responsible and guarantee that this type of thing will never happen again.” {{ZH1}} [[ZH1]] 还好意思让别人道歉。这话应该美方说:请中方认真反思自己的政策和做法,保护好自己的公民,使他们真正享受公民的合法权益,不要逼得他们为逃命往别国领土上跑。请中方就此道歉,彻底调查此事,处理相关负责人,并保证不再发生此类事件. [[ZH1]]

Other netizens think America should apologize–for not doing enough. One wrote, “American must apologize; there are so many suffering injustice, why don’t they save more?” Another openly wished that the United States was “ten times stronger,” so that it could “snuff out all inhumane dictatorships.”

One netizen took a particularly Confucian tack, analogizing Chen’s case to one of child abuse: “I don’t think it’s as simple as saying the human rights question is purely an internal governance issue. If another family’s child is being beaten by the head of household, you can’t urge [a change]? If the child comes to your house to hide, would you kick him out so the head of household can keep beating him? Everyone wants to be protected.” {{ZH2}}[[ZH2]]我也觉得人权问题不是内政问题那么简单。别家小孩子被家长打了,你不会劝劝?小孩子要到你家躲躲,你会把他赶出去让他家长继续打?所有的人,都要得到保护。[[ZH2]] 

Of course, China’s netizens are ultimately Chinese, and wish they could offer more full-throated support for their own government. But the Party’s latest response seems to have made that difficult. One netizen seemed confused, asking, “Why can one blind person put the Party in such dire straits? Can freedom and equality be that difficult?” One pleaded, “Prime Minister Wen, please bring freedom and democracy to the people.” Another heartbroken commenter asked, “Motherland, tell me, how can I love you?”

A flame still burns for Chen

A small minority of netizens sided with the powers that be. “[Chen] is just a tool, a sad tool,” one wrote. Another added, “[Chen] overestimates himself; his value is not that high, the U.S. will not have a falling out with China over him.”

Chen, escorted by U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke (right) and State Department legal advisor Harold Koh (left)

But the vast majority of netizen commenters continued to express admiration for Chen’s spirit, as they have ever since word of Chen’s escape hit the Internet.

One netizen writes, “In Chen we see not only the light of justice and compassion, we also see the true qualities of a freedom fighter. I wish him peace and safety!!! “ 

Others are touched by Chen’s accomplishments in spite of his disability, writing “Chen is blind in the eye, but we are blind in the heart, in the soul,” and ”Chen is blind in the eye, the government is also blind and not just in the eye.”

Chen also seems to be gaining new fans, with one netizen tweeting “I’m reading up on [Chen], the more I learn the more I admire him!” But the information environment is still far from transparent. Another wrote, “May I gently ask who Chen Guangcheng is?”

One netizen responded to a picture of Chen reuniting with his family [above], “It’s very heartwarming. Wish Chen and his whole family peace and safety from now on.” It seems to be a sentiment widely shared by a Chinese blogosphere holding its collective breath, waiting and wishing for a happy resolution.      

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