Chen Guangcheng’s Defense of Human Rights

Ryan T. Anderson /



Distinguished human rights activist Chen Guangcheng called on world leaders to take action on religious oppression, forced abortion, and other human rights violations by China’s Communist government last week in a lecture delivered at Princeton University.

Chen became famous for opposing China’s oppressive one-child policy. His inaugural address as a fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, “The Next Human Rights Revolution,” published at Public Discourse, explained, “Forcing women to abort their babies is a violation of universal human rights. It tramples on women’s rights…and also the sacred right of life.”

Chen relayed the story of one family’s victimization:

At 4 a.m. on September 27, a group of twenty officials from the Family Planning Commission…kicked down the door of the family’s home, held down Zhou Guoqiang and dragged his wife to a hospital by force for an abortion. A six-month baby was killed by a poisonous injection in the mother’s womb. It is more accurate to say that the baby died of the evil system rather than the poisonous injection.

But the terrors of China run far beyond forced abortion. They include violations of civil liberties such as freedom of speech, the right to private property, and religious liberty:

Those who defend human rights…are kidnapped, put under house arrest, beat up, forced to travel, or in more severe cases, are detained, sent to a labor camp, covered with a black mask over the head, detained in illegal “black jails,” or falsely accused of having a mental illness.… [J]ournalists from other countries are forbidden to conduct interviews, wicked officials are able to do whatever they want without being held accountable by the law of the country.… Hence the blatant forcible seizure of farmlands, the forcible occupation of civilian homes.… Common people, though greatly discontented, can turn nowhere to file complaints.

Chen urged world leaders to focus not solely on economic concerns but on moral values as well:

I call on the governments of democratic countries, especially the United States government, the primary champion of human rights, to set a good example by shifting the focus from economy and trade to human rights, and from price to value, when dealing with dictators. Attaching importance to economic interests alone will keep the United States further away from fundamental ideals such as freedom, democracy, and human rights, which are the founding principles of the nation.

Perhaps the most poignant remark Chen—a blind, self-taught country lawyer—offered was on the vital contributions each and every individual can make:

But how do people respond when they see bad things happen? Some may say, “We’re common people of little significance, and our opinions don’t matter. What can we do?” Don’t undervalue yourself. I’ve said this again and again: “Every person has infinite strength. Every action has an important impact. We must believe in the value of our own actions.”

Chen believed in the value of his actions, and the world has noticed.