Saturday 19 May 2012 was much like any other when I got to the Beijing Airport. I was keen to check in, clear immigration and board my flight for home. I took a quick run up the stairs to a rooftop dining area. I wanted to capture the incredible roof-span, but my iPhone camera couldn’t take in the entire structure.
At the same time in another part of the airport cameras were equally busy. Chen Guangcheng was taken by wheelchair to check in to United Airlines Flight #88 from Beijing to Newark, New Jersey. He and his family were issued passports, freed and taken to the airport all in the same morning. Chen didn’t realise his day of freedom finally arrived.
On a personal level this is a great victory. Chen is now free to speak openly about human rights abuses in Mainland China. He is able to pursue advanced studies, and was offered a fellowship in law at New York University. He and his immediate family arrived safe and sound in the US. Given the time zone differences, he arrived in America the same day he left China.
See his first televised press conference here at The Guardian.
On a professional level this may mean the dissident voice of Chen will become ever more remote – especially for those in China. Once offshore dissidents had lost their connections within China and became less influential. It will be interesting to see if social media and the broad uptake of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) mean some Chinese can remain “in touch”. (see my earlier article on the use of VPNs in Mainland China.)
Chen’s flight to the USA follows a dramatic escape to the US Embassy in Beijing in the days preceding Hillary Clinton’s state visit to China. That issue soon superseded otherwise important trade talks. Chen was released into hospital care and thanked the US for support, then immediately flip-flopped and asked to go to America. (See my earlier article on Chen and Hillary.)
As he left Beijing Airport, Chen’s blindness would not have allowed him to read the sign above. This is right at the escalators and elevators leading to international departures. He may not have felt that Patriotism, Innovation, Inclusiveness and Spirit all applied to his circumstances.
In the end Chen Guangcheng was allowed to leave Mainland China. He is surrounded by his immediate family, and he arrives into a robust support network ready to smooth his transition. I am happy for him and his family, just as I was happy to return home after a sojourn in China. I wish those that remain in his stead all the best as they continue to support the disenfranchised across China.