Exclusive Interview with Human Rights Champion Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng’s daring escape from house arrest to the US Embassy in Beijing generated international headlines. The “barefoot lawyer” is one of the most prominent human rights activists on the planet, known for his fierce commitment to democracy and human rights, even in the face of persecution by Chinese authorities. One of his central campaigns has been confronting the evil of forced abortion in China. Millennial editor Robert Christian recently had the opportunity to ask Chen Guangcheng a few questions about his life, his values, and his new book, The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China.

Robert Christian: You are such a strong defender of democracy and human rights. How did you come to hold these beliefs?

Chen Guangcheng: As a result of my experiences, it’s clear to me that without the checks and balances of a democratic system that can guarantee human rights and restrict power, nothing is safe. If you don’t safeguard human rights, you lose other rights, and you could even lose your life. Human rights are thus just as essential to life as air and water. And in order to achieve protection of our rights, it is imperative that we establish a system of democratic checks and balances.

因为我的经历告诉我,没有一个保障人权的、制约公权的民主制衡的社会制度,什么都不安全。如果不很好地捍卫人权,那么你也会失去其他的权利,甚至生命。因此,人权是生活中必不可缺的组成部分,就像空气和水一样。要达到捍卫人权的目的,就必须建立一套民主制衡的制度系统来作为保障。

Some argue that China’s culture is incompatible with universal human rights and democracy, citing Confucian values and other factors. How would you respond to such claims?

First of all, universal values are values for all of humanity—it’s just that having first appeared in the West, they became known as Western values. No matter the origin or place, humanity is the same on a fundamental level: all people everywhere desire more reasonable and just social systems. And even Chinese culture contains ideas of democratic balances and the rule of law. For thousands of years in China there was the idea of the so-called Five Elements, wherein all of life was divided into the basic elements: wood, metal, water, fire, and earth. Under this theory, everything operates according to the characteristics of each of the elements, and thus together the five elements balance and sustain each other – in essence as a system of checks and balances very similar to the ideas underlying Western democracy. From ancient China we have the phrase, “Even the king is subject to the laws governing the common people.” This too is the same as Western ideas of the rule of law. What’s more, a quintessential Confucian saying is “That which you do not like, do not do to others.” This in fact presents a commonality with values dear to Western civilization.

But Chinese culture is vast and profound – Confucianism is just one of the many pieces of the picture which include things like Taoism and other forms of thought. The reason that so many people are as familiar with Confucianism as they are is because some of Confucius’ sayings from when he was young were particularly useful to those in power, and thus were praised by the rulers. Overall, those things that are advantageous for the Communist Party’s dictatorship, they will freely use for their own benefit, not because things originate in the East or the West. Take Marxism, for instance: it’s a Western thing, but they’re happy to use it in China. But whatever is not advantageous for the control of the dictatorship they will refuse flat out, like universal values, freedom of the press, etc.

首先普世价值是全人类的价值,只是率先在西方实现了,才被称为西方价值。无论何处,人类的人性都是相同的,谁都会喜欢更合理更公正的社会制度,即使中国的文化也不缺乏民主制衡和法治的概念。中国几千年来的传统五行学说就是相生,相克,相互制约的制衡理论,很像现代的西方民主架构;中国自古就有王子犯法与庶民同罪的概念,这与西方的法治概念是不谋而合的。孔子的精髓是:己所不欲勿施于人。这恰恰与民主世界的文明价值观有着共通之处。再说中国的文化博大精深,孔子的学说只是其中小小一部分,还有更重要的道家学说等。之所以大家对孔子学说比较了解,因为孔子年轻时候的一些理论有利于统治者,所以被统治者推崇的缘故。总之,有利于中共独裁统治的,他就会拿来唯我所用,并不完全是因为是东方还是西方的问题,例如马克思主义,也是西方的东西,但就可以在中国被推崇。不利于独裁统治的,就会被无理拒绝,例如普世价值,新闻自由等。

How did you become an activist willing to take on Chinese authorities?

Actually, protecting rights is an innate reaction—fairness, justice, and peace are things that everyone yearns for. When rights are violated, you have to act. It’s like if you see someone about to fall down: you instinctively reach to help that person. And when you see someone being bullied and harassed and that person’s rights are violated, you want to help that person achieve justice and protect the rights that that person is entitled to. Because the Communist Party is the primary violator of rights, and because it goes to every effort to protect the dictatorship of the Party, it has itself led to all manner of social injustices. Of course in the process of demanding social justice there will inevitably be a clash with those who have created the unjust system.

其实维护权利是我的一个本能的反应,追求公平,公正,和平是每一个人都向往的。权利被侵害了,就要去维护。就像有人要摔倒,我们本能地要去扶她一样,当看到别人被欺压,权利受到侵害,就想帮他讨回公道,捍卫应有的权利。因为中共是主要侵权者,就是他极力捍卫的共产专制制度导致了种种的社会不公。当然我们要求社会公正就无法避免与制造不公正者斗争。

Why did you decide to write your new book?

First of all, I wrote the book because I wanted to tell people that no matter the hardships you face, you should not give up. You shouldn’t think that you cannot overcome difficulty and be successful. As long as you persevere, as long as you never stop thinking about how to resolve the most pressing issues facing you, your problems will find resolution. The key to success or failure is your own enthusiasm and confidence.

Secondly, I wanted to tell the world, to show the world a true face of China, something more than what most people know of the big, modern skyscraper cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In actuality, more than 70% of China’s population are rural residents, and the awful conditions in which they exist should be known and understood more broadly.

Thirdly, through my book and my record of struggle with the Communist Party, people will be able to see clearly the extent of the evil of the Communist Party. It has no moral baseline, and beyond most people’s imagination, it is the very embodiment of all the violent and evil dictatorships around the world. It’s the biggest threat to humanity and universal values.

Fourth, even people living in the free world need to open their eyes and keep watch over their elected governments or else their governments will begin to go against the best interests of the people and will begin to sell out on the values that underpin their nations and ignore the long-term interests of the nation in favor of their own short-term special interests.

首先我写这本书是想告诉人们在任何困难面前都不要想到放弃,都不要认为不可能做成。只要你坚持努力,不断想方设法去解决面临的主要问题,困难总能得到解决。决定成败最最关键的是你的积极与自信。第二,想让世界人们了解、认识一个真正的中国,而不单单是大多数人了解的北京,上海,广州等这些高楼大厦,现代化的中国。而且实际上70%以上的人口是生活在农村的,他们的生存环境的恶劣程度是应该被人们了解,认识的。 第三,通过我的书,对我与中共斗争的记录,世人可以清楚地认识到中共的邪恶,是没有任何道德底线的,是超出大家的想像的,他的所有残暴集中了所有独裁者的残暴与一身,是人类文明,普适价值的最大威胁。第四,即使生活在自由世界的人民也需要要时刻等大眼睛监督好民选政府,否则他们也会做违背国民意愿,出卖国家价值的事,只维护本届政府眼前利益而忽视国家长远利益。

A great deal of controversy has come from Hillary Clinton’s role in your escape with some suggesting that it should disqualify her from being president. Should people change whether or not they might vote for Hillary based on her role in your escape?

First of all, Clinton’s decision to allow me to seek safety at the embassy was extremely important and showed vision. For this I am extremely grateful to her. As for the later change in policy and the fact that American values were not upheld and basic human rights were compromised in the negotiations with the Communist Party, Obama and his advisors should bear primary responsibility for this. As for whether or not Clinton bears any responsibility, the American people should first understand the truth of the situation and then make their own judgements.

首先希拉里决定让我进入使馆紧急避险,是一个非常关键的、重要的、而且正确的决定,这也是一个有眼光的决定,这一点我非常的感谢她。至于后来政策的改变,没有坚持美国自由,人权的基本价值而向中共独裁者妥协,奥巴马及其幕僚应付主要责任,希拉里应该承担多大的责任,美国人民有权了解事实,做出最后的评估。