Chen Guangcheng and the One-Child Policy, Revisited
Since beginning my internship at C-FAM last week, I’ve had the incredible opportunity of attending congressional meetings and seeing the U.S. government at work. Yesterday I attended the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the status of Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese activist against forced abortion and sterilization who recently escaped house arrest and is planning to travel to the United States. I had the privilege of not only listening to testimony from various Chinese human rights advocates, but also of hearing Chen’s voice on the phone from China.
The first witness was Pastor Bob Fu of ChinaAid Association. He described the uncertainty of Chen’s situation as well as the danger his family and supporters face. While Chinese officials have ferociously prevented anyone from visiting Chen, including U.S. diplomats, he believes that China’s promise to allow Chen to come to the U.S. is encouraging.
The next testimony came from Wei Jingsheng, a human rights activist and head of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition. Through a translator, Wei told the story of his eighteen-year political imprisonment and the abuses he suffered at the hands of the Chinese government. He emphasized that the Chinese respond to U.S. demands for human rights in proportion to the level of American pressure; therefore, the U.S. must be “all in” on human rights in order for the situation in China to improve.
Following Wei was Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights without Frontiers, who testified on behalf of two of Chen’s supporters in China. The first supporter wished to thank the House committee for its help, since its intervention has prevented her from being tortured (although she has been kidnapped and assaulted more than once in the past for assisting Chen). The second supporter was Chen’s lawyer, who was so brutally beaten after trying to visit Chen in the hospital a few days ago that he has lost hearing in one ear. Nevertheless, he has continued to advocate for Chen’s extended family, including Chen’s nephew, who was recently charged with “intentional homicide” despite not killing anyone; the nephew defended himself from Chinese officials who severely assaulted him and his parents in their own home because they are relatives of Chen. Littlejohn expressed concern at the disregard for rule of law in China, since the very lawyers trying to uphold it have been violently harassed and intimidated.
Next was Chai Ling, head of All Girls Allowed, a group that seeks to end the “gendercide” of female children in China that has resulted because of the one-child policy. She told the stories of two women who suffered greatly because of the policy: one died because of a forced abortion, while the other saw her house demolished and her family separated because her parents violated the policy; she was ultimately sold as a child bride and forced into prostitution. According to Chai, these situations are not exceptions, but a persisting reality in China today. Most disturbing, however, was the testimony of Mei Shunping, a victim of five forced abortions who described (through Chai as her translator) how all of the women in the factory where she worked had to undergo monthly pregnancy tests and were all punished severely if a single worker disobeyed the policy. Mei attempted suicide after the trauma she faced, but eventually escaped to the United States and found peace in her Christian faith. In fact, both Mei and Chai ended on positive notes, explaining that they had hope because they knew that God would not abandon them.
Finally, Fu called Chen, put him on speakerphone so everyone could hear, and translated as Chen spoke about his situation. Chen is unsure of the status of his paperwork and legal documents that would allow him and his immediate family to travel to the United States, but he insisted that Chinese officials’ brutality toward his family and the false charge of intentional homicide on his nephew violate the Chinese constitution. When asked what he would like to say to the United States as a whole, Chen thanked the American people for their help and support and reminded everyone that justice and equality are universal values. After Chai praised him for being a hero to Chinese women, Chen responded that he is not a hero, as he is only acting according to his conscience; he cannot be silent on the evil the Chinese government has committed against women and children. In his final words, he reiterated his concern for his extended family.
The hearing yesterday served not only to update the world on Chen’s situation, but also to bring to light the brutality of the one-child policy and its degradation of women and children. The witnesses disputed the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) claim that women comply with the policy voluntarily. While undoubtedly some do, many comply only because of intense social pressure and fear of retaliation; women who defy the policy face not only astronomical fines, but also forced abortion and sterilization. Unfortunately, economic interests have made the United States reluctant to demand protection of human rights in China in issues ranging from the one-child policy to free speech. Activists here and abroad, however, have made it clear that that they will not rest until China recognizes and defends the rights of all.