Chen smoking

April 8, 2015

Blind lawyer describes sizzling getaway

Kurt Campbell with Chen Guangcheng at the US Embassy


Everybody feels like they’ve pulled off a daring move at some point in their lives. Avoiding a confrontation with a bit of office parkour, beating out the lunch crowd to the final panini with a combat roll, that sort of thing.

But these small victories pale in comparison to what Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng had to overcome in order to escape from his house arrest.

Blind since he was only six months old, he grew up to become a lawyer who took up controversial causes, often against the Chinese government. Eventually activism landed him in hot water, and he served a four year jail sentence for “instigating a mob to disrupt traffic” and “causing damage to doors and windows”.

After his sentence, he was held in perpetual house arrest. Although legally now free, his house was surrounded and monitored by hundreds of security officials. He and his family were harassed and attempts to reach him from the outside were rebuffed by the security forces.

Bale fail: actor tried unsuccessfully to effect release

In 2011, Christian Bale and a CNN TV crew attempted to reach him for an interview but were chased away and had stones thrown at them. The situation was so dire that not even the Dark Knight could help him.

After two years, Chen had had enough. He hatched a plan to escape. As his recent memoir records, he first feigned being bedridden with illness so as not to arouse suspicion if he was not seen for a few days.

After night fell, he climbed over the wall around his house, breaking his foot upon landing, and then crawled through three goat pens to the outside of his village. Soon he was outside the area he was familiar with, and was forced to rely on a “bat-like echolocation” he had learned as a child.

With the help of birdsong and traffic noise he made his way to a rendezvous point where activists spirited him away to the US Embassy in Beijing, where eventually he obtained visas to work as a scholar in the US where he now lives with his family.

So next time you give the excuse that you’re “trapped” at the office, remember that if a blind man can elude hundreds of guards by making like a bat, you’re just not trying hard enough. JL

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