Chen Guangcheng, generic activist (corrected)

Anyone who has been following the news in recent days has almost certainly read numerous stories about the remarkable blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and his dark-of-night escape from house arrest. Truth is, there are too many stories about his work and dramatic escape to review in a single blog post. However, I would like to ask GetReligion readers a rather simple question: Why does Chen do what he does?

In other words, we know that he is an activist and that he is blind. This makes him a blind activist, I guess. However, he is not an activist for the rights of the blind.

Consider the following Washington Post report from several days ago about Chen and his plight. The background language in this report remains rather typical, however.

In the lede, he is identified simply as "blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng." Later, readers are told:

The men who kept Chen contained in his farmhouse, who he says beat him and his wife, and who harassed journalists and activists trying to see him were operating as an extrajudicial force, with no official standing. But they were clearly doing the bidding of local party bosses who wanted to keep Chen silenced and isolated.

When Chen escaped, climbing over a high wall and walking hours alone at night to evade detection, the blind activist had not been linked to any crime. And members of the activist network who assisted Chen -- driving him to Beijing, shuttling him around to avoid capture -- also were not committing crimes, since Chen was not charged with anything. Yet police have been rounding them all up.

Chen made a video that was broadcast on YouTube, directly appealing to Wen to take action against those who he says abused him and his family, to protect his family and to investigate corruption in Linyi city, which oversees his village. By appealing personally to [Premier Wen Jiabao], Chen was deftly avoiding the accusation, often used against dissidents in China, that he was “subverting state authority.”

Thus, Chen is a activist, supported by an "activist network," who opposes local corruption. Later, readers learn that he is known for his "longtime advocacy for protection of the poor, the marginalized and the abused, and the application of the rule of law."

Duly noted. The Post story then proceeds into a detailed analysis of how the case is affecting, you got it, developments in Chinese politics. The case is also raising questions for Obama administration officials, too.

But that's it for Chen.

However, the same issue of the same newspaper featured an op-ed page column written by Bob Fu, a leader in one of the groups that is backing this generic activist. This column included the following background material:

Chen is often described as a “dissident,” but that is a misnomer. Despite years of brutal treatment for seeking to bring attention to those victimized by China’s “one-child” policy, he has never established a political party or organization. He has never advocated overthrowing the Communist Party. In the video he posted online after his escape, he says that the injustices his family experienced “hurt the image of our Party.” And the first thing he told me after escaping was that he wanted the outside the world to know that he was not going to leave China but to “fight to the end for the freedom of my family. ... I want to live a normal life as a Chinese citizen with my family.” ...

This blind lawyer, whose first name, “Guang Cheng,” means “light” and “integrity,” has been silenced for almost six years because the Chinese government views his assistance to the vulnerable as a threat. Chen’s desire for justice and freedom should put him firmly on the “right side” of history.

To no one's surprise, the short bio for the author states:

Bob Fu is founder and president of the China Aid Association, a Texas-based Christian human rights organization campaigning for Chen Guangcheng’s freedom.

It is natural that Fu is working on Chen's behalf. This generic activist, you see, is actually a pro-life activist, the kind of Christian activist who sees China's often brutal one-child policy as a violation of human rights as well as religious liberty. The abortion angle in this story has begun to show up in some mainstream media reports, including this subsequent piece in the Post. (The Washington Post also had a breakthrough piece on Chen and the one-child policy back in 2005. Check it out.)

But the faith angle? The religious liberty angle? Or, wait, is that the so-called "religious liberty" angle?

Still missing. Please use the comments pages to let us know if you find mainstream news reports that spot this ghost.

Correction: See this new GetReligion post on this issue.

Please respect our Commenting Policy