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Where There’s Oppression, There’s Resistance: Chen Reflects on Future of China

January 30, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez talks to Chen Guangcheng about life in the United States, how he keeps track of events in China and his hopes to return home at some point, as well as how he views the new Chinese government and money spent there on suppressing resistance.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mr. Chen, the last time most Americans heard about you, you were on your way out of China after a tense couple of weeks. What’s your life been like since then?

CHEN GUANGCHENG, Chinese Activist: It’s hard to put it in one word. It’s been eight months, and I would say my life is much fuller now and the — most importantly, I’m free.

I haven’t been really rested for years. And now I’m in a very good environment. And there are a lot of things to be done and that I would like to do, so I have to be very engaged. It’s very, very full of things to do. And I’m very happy about that.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you able to keep up with events in China as closely as you were when you were doing your human rights work there?

CHEN GUANGCHENG: There are many ways to get — to become informed. In a sense, it’s easier to be informed here than when I was in China.

I’m not saying that, in China, things cannot be done. What I’m saying, that things can be done from many different angles to promote what we need to promote.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, since you left the country, there have been continued arrests of dissidents, suppression of press freedoms with The Southern Weekly, attempts to control access to the Internet. A lot of things are moving along in China. What does it tell you about the government’s attitude toward free speech and free thought?

CHEN GUANGCHENG: I think that this only goes to show that the Chinese government and the party still wants to control everything, and if they keep holding an attitude of controlling everything, otherwise, they couldn’t sleep, I’m afraid that they won’t be able to sleep well ever.

The more they try to suppress the journalism and free media, the more it goes to show how important it is and the important role free press plays in promoting the progress of the society.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been a new party Congress, a new leadership team put in place. Are there any signals about their coming attitude toward all these matters, personal freedom, human rights, free speech, free press?

CHEN GUANGCHENG: Yes, new leaders have come in, but the team really is the same.

I would say I would not expect too much. But if Xi Jinping is willing to respect the trend of the time and to respect the people’s will, then he can make change. But, at this point, I wouldn’t put my bet on it. If we want to have hope in China, then the hope is with the people. So I think it’s the people who are going to change the future.

RAY SUAREZ: How? How can the people change the future, when their lives are so thoroughly controlled?

CHEN GUANGCHENG: Again, where there is an oppression, there’s a resistance.

And they spend — they invest tons and tons of money and human resources to control. On myself alone, they have spent $70 million, $80 million and thousands of people. And what happened? I’m here. I’m sitting right here.

Well, dictators are actually very fearful themselves. Even when they’re asleep, they’re afraid that others will take their powers away. And, in fact, their own powers are taken by force, by violence. They are not just afraid of me as an individual. They are afraid of a lot of the people. And the overall suppression on the average people having — has deterred — deteriorated.

And so they are — there’s suppression on other minority groups. Yes, they spend — like I said, they spent a lot of money on me, and they spend a huge amount of money on so-called stability maintenance. Just imagine where — where does that money go?

RAY SUAREZ: Are you optimistic that, before you’re a very old man, you will be able to go home to your village and live as a free person?

CHEN GUANGCHENG: The way you frame it is too pessimistic.

I don’t have to wait until my old years to go back. But I don’t know which day or which year. Oh, no, I don’t think it’s going to take too long.

RAY SUAREZ: From your answer, it sounds like you’re pretty optimistic about the future of China as a free country.

CHEN GUANGCHENG: The people are waking up. This is the utmost factor at play. It needs you and me and everybody else to pay attention to what’s going on in China, help whenever, wherever you can to shorten this process.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Chen, thank you very much.

CHEN GUANGCHENG: Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone in the whole world who cares about human rights. And thank you, kind Americans. And thank you, everybody who has helped.

JEFFREY BROWN: And there’s more online, where you will find links to our earlier stories about the Chinese activist. Those are on our World page.