The Barefoot Lawyer: Chen Guangcheng, January 15, 2017
The Barefoot Lawyer is the story of Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese, blind, self-taught lawyer whose tenacity caught fire and caused international attention when he decided to resist China’s policies about having children.
Traditionally, China encouraged large families, though many starved to death, in order to increase the official census of communist families. 35 years ago, they instituted the One Child Policy, resulting in an overabundance of boys and a shortage of marriageable girls. Chen’s poor village was under the watchful supervision of the party. Nothing happened without some effect upon the already starving people. Beside paid police, there were “thugs” who for a small wage broke into homes, trashed them, and terrorized women and children.
Chen and his wife were in financial difficulty when their first child arrived, but they wanted and loved her. When Chen realized that he could be the voice of those Chinese who had been robbed of their right to choose how many children to raise, he and his wide and the extended family suffered. Chen underwent two mock trials, was in house arrest, in prison. He was tortured, nearly to death. His mother-in-law, who lived with the couple, was their vigilant member.
When a second child came along, and there was no way to contact officials or protest, Chen and his wife felt the full brunt of the force of the Chinese government. Chen and his wife kept to themselves. However, thugs came in the night into villages to drag out the pregnant women and force them to abort or worse. Chen’s brother lost an influential teaching position after twenty years for simply associating with Chen. After Chen successfully ran away to the American embassy, politics intervened. Promises were made and broken, and years passed before Chen, his wife, and their children were allowed to move to the United States.
This is a must read for people who care about social justice enough to stomach the terrible facts. It is a wake-up call to anyone complacent enough to believe economic sanctions would dissolve the problem. And finally, it may seem that the U.S. embassy has more pressing issues than the safety of a man who nearly gave his life for a simple human right. Patience, determination, and incredible courage are clearly described in this razor sharp memoir. We will be watching what Chen can accomplish here, at the universities, and in certain congressional settings.