Tue May 22, 2012
Now In New York, What's Next For Chinese Activist?
Originally published on Tue May 22, 2012 6:29 am
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A Chinese dissident is settling into life in New York. And Chen Guangcheng is thinking about those he left behind. His story captured worldwide attention when people helped him escape from house arrest to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Those people remain within the reach of Chinese authorities. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: New York University professor Jerome Cohen helped U.S. and Chinese officials untangle their dispute over Chen's fate, by offering a face-saving way out - a fellowship to study in the U.S. It's not what China initially wanted, he says.
JEROME COHEN: They were so angry at him and at the U.S. government, the last thing they wanted to do was to allow him to go, especially, they feared, this would give lots of people who are unhappy with the human rights situation in China an incentive to descend on the American embassy or other countries' embassies.
KELEMEN: But with so much media attention focused on Chen, Cohen says he thinks the Chinese wanted to get rid of this case by letting him study abroad. Cohen says Chen is adapting well to life in New York and trying to get his son and daughter settled for school. But there's something haunting him - reports of retribution against his family and friends, including the arrest of his nephew.
COHEN: He's very concerned with not only his nephew's fate back home but also the fate of those who helped him on his strange migration to Beijing.
KELEMEN: Cohen is raising particular concern about Guo Yushan, a scholar who helped Chen in Beijing. He's now believed to be under house arrest.
COHEN: Now that Chen has left, the fear is they will lower the boom on Mr. Guo as a key person.
KELEMEN: Chen Guangcheng has spoken to some family members by phone since arriving in New York. And according to Cohen, Chen hopes to stay active in promoting human rights in the country.
COHEN: He'll have a chance to speak out, a chance to be heard. And many Chinese now, through the Internet and social media, can keep abreast of what people are saying abroad. So it's conceivable he will have more influence here than if he had stayed at home.
KELEMEN: Many other exiles have faded into obscurity after leaving China. But Cohen says recent arrivals have been able to use social media to stay engaged.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.