NEW YORK Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States May 19 with his wife and two children, beginning a new chapter of freedom despite ongoing concern for his family in China.
With little notice, Chen boarded a plane in Beijing en route to Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, where CNN reported he arrived to little fanfare after the U.S. State Department prohibited public and media access.
Chen spoke hours later to numerous reporters and onlookers at New York University, where he has been granted a fellowship to study law. There, Chen indicated through a translator that he had received partial U.S. citizenship rights, CNN said, and he asked people to help him "promote justice and fairness in China." He expressed mixed feelings about seeking refuge in the United States, CNN said, because of unfinished business in his home country.
The 40-year-old self-trained lawyer, blind since childhood, was imprisoned and placed under house arrest for exposing the barbaric nature of China's one-child policy.
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., a longtime champion of Chen's cause, met with him upon Chen's arrival in New Jersey.
"After years of enduring physical and psychological torture, imprisonment and hate, the man, Chen Guangcheng, who defended Chinese women from the crime of forced abortion, is finally free," Smith said in a statement. "America welcomes this extraordinary family with open arms."
Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based China Aid Association, received a phone call from Chen just after Chinese authorities told him to pack for travel to the U.S.
"We are happy for Chen and his family," Fu said after the call. "This is a great day for freedom fighters. This further proves that constructive dialogue with international pressure can surely produce concrete positive results. We pray for his family's safe journey."
Chen has two children, a son and a daughter. Certain disabled persons, including the blind, are allowed to have a second child in China, despite the one-child policy.
Chen, his children and "equally heroic wife" will get to rest, recuperate and recover in New York, Smith said, adding that the children can begin the process of "healing from emotional trauma no child should ever endure."
"Great human rights leaders are never separated from the noble causes they espoused," Smith said. "... Not all the Chens are free and safe, however. The Chinese government must immediately end its deplorable retaliation against Chen's family and friends who remain in China.
"Over the last several days, several of Chen's relatives and supporters have been arrested and brutally beaten as part of the Chinese government's refocused retaliation," the congressman said. "They can't beat him anymore, but they are beating his relatives and friends."
A Time magazine blog noted May 21 that China was downplaying Chen's case. An editorial in the Global Times, a tabloid run by the Chinese Communist Party, said, "The Chen drama appears to be buzzing, but it has barely impacted Chinese society. The majority of Chinese have a mature and stable judgment of this country. That is why dissidents, who often create a sensation in Western media, fail to make a dent among the Chinese." The newspaper has used that line of argument before, Time said.
Smith held two hearings on Chen's behalf in recent days, with Chen speaking via phone from a Beijing hospital with Fu translating. Smith is chairman of the Subcommitee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Smith reiterated at the May 15 hearing Chen's value to the cause of human rights in China.
"Chen Guangcheng is among the bravest defenders of women's rights in the world," Smith said. "Chen defended thousands of women from the ongoing, most egregious systematic state-sponsored exploitation and abuse of women in human history pervasive forced abortion and involuntary sterilization as part of China's one child per couple policy and has suffered torture, cruel and degrading treatment, unjust incarceration and multiple beatings as a result."
The magnitude of the exploitation of women in China has been largely overlooked, trivialized and even enabled by world leaders, Smith said.
Smith nominated Chen for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 along with two other persecuted Chinese human rights advocates. The congressman had attempted to visit Chen in China since last fall but was thwarted by the Chinese government.