Chen Guangcheng asks to leave China with Hillary Clinton

In a day of dramatic developments, the blind Chinese lawyer who left the US embassy in Beijing yesterday has called on Barack Obama to do everything possible to let his family leave China.

“I would like to say to (President Obama): Please do everything you can to get our whole family out,” 40-year-old activist Chen Guangcheng told CNN.

Chen, who spent six days under US diplomatic protection, says originally he did not plan to leave China but he was forced to leave the embassy for Beijing’s Chaoyang hospital because US officials told him of threats by Chinese authorities to send his wife and children back to their home in Shandong province — where they were subject to house arrest.

Chen told Channel 4 News:

I came [to Chaoyang hospital] because of an agreement. I was worried about the safety of my family. A gang of them have taken over our house, sitting in our room and eating at our table, waving thick sticks around.

They’ve turned our home into a prison, with seven cameras and electric fence all around.

He has also said he hopes to leave the People’s Republic on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plane when she leaves China after bilateral talks later this week.

US officials said today that they are still trying to assist Chen and denied he was pressured to leave the embassy.

Chen’s jarring account emerged after a spectacularly brave move by his close friend Zeng Jinyan (who wrote for Index about growing support for the dissident here). The activist tweeted yesterday that she had spoken to Chen and and his wife, Yuan Weijing, who said they had received threats of being beaten to death if he left the country.

Chen’s wife told CNN that the family’s life was in danger and that matters had worsened since the activist’s escape. “Right now, we can’t even freely use our phone. I can’t even freely walk out of the hospital,” she said, adding:

After Guangcheng got out, the government was persuading me to stay here. But they were also tightening their grip on me. I became really worried. If they ever get us back home, they would put us in an iron cage.

These developments contrast with US officials’ prior claims yesterday that Chen had planned to remain in China to continue his work by studying law at university, and that the Chinese government had given them assurances of his safety.

In the last the 36 hours the unsettling — and often confusing — story has unravelled into a diplomatic storm between China and the United States. Negotiations had been ongoing since Chen’s dramatic escape to Beijing from over 18 months under house arrest in the village of Dongshigu, Shandong province last week. Clinton said earlier this week that a “constructive relationship” between the two powers “includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights”.

Meanwhile, nationalist Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial today that it was “meaningless” to use Chen’s case to attack China’s human rights, arguing that the country’s progress in improving its human rights record would not be “beleaguered” by such moves:

It is certain that Chen’s case is only an interlude for China’s development. It will not undermine social stability, nor will it hinder the normal development and progress of China’s human rights. China can take a composed attitude when such cases happen again.

Chen, noted for his efforts to expose forced abortions, spent four years in prison on charges of disturbing public order before being placed under house arrest. He won the Index on Censorship whistleblowing award for his activities in 2007.

Marta Cooper is an editorial researcher at Index. She tweets at @martaruco 

Who is Hu Xijin? Behind the scenes at “China’s Fox News”

One of the most curious newspapers to come out of China in recent years is the English-language edition of the Global Times.

Owned by the People’s Daily group, it is one of only two national papers published in English in mainland China, alongside the long-standing, less sensational China Daily.
Hu XijinWhen the tabloid was launched by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin in 2009, Westerners hired as editors were told their aim was to steal China Daily’s readership by covering stories its rival and the rest of the domestic media would not dare cover. Hu has certainly kept his promise: over the years the paper has touched on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the detention earlier this year of dissident artist Ai Weiwei (including an exclusive interview with Ai on his release), and the house arrest of blind human rights lawyer Chen Chuangcheng. Its tone moves between hyper-nationalism and a more objective reflection on typically “sensitive” topics.

The Global Times is now so notorious among Western journalists that the paper itself has become a news story. Last week, Foreign Policy dubbed it “China’s Fox news“. The Global Times quickly responded with its own editorial saying: “the quality of the article didn’t live up to what we expect from the Western media.”  Touché!

In order to find out more about the man, and the tabloid he has created, Index went behind the scenes to talk to Western editors and reporters at the tabloid. Because staff are forbidden to discuss the paper with Western media, we cannot disclose their names.

Their comments cast Hu as enthusiastic character who enjoys controversy and has a thing for Chinese film star Gong Li. Here’s a selection.


I rather liked him… I think of him as a William Randolph Hearst [Citizen Kane] of Chinese journalism. He’s an excitable boy, a rakish liar. He loves to hear himself hold forth and says his biggest regret is not seeing enough of his teenage daughter because he works so late. He has a vintage poster of Gong Li in his modestly-appointed office. No other real decorations.

He knows really very little about US foreign or political policies but is very quick to jump on the idea that US is itching to drop a bomb or two on China.

He loves controversy and courts it — whether it’s an editorial in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times or Financial Times quoting Global Times for some addled hysterical stance or some trouble with the more conservative People’s Daily types.

He’s also a hypocrite, of course. He had a reporter [called Wen Tao] fired for tweeting from an all-Chinese news meeting where he had assured the staff that Global Times would print anything without fear or favour. That reporter later found a gig as an assistant for Ai Weiwei and was arrested with him, before being released at about the same time Ai was.


What most people don’t realise about the paper unless they have the hard copy in front of them is that whenever a sensitive news story is covered, they always run an editorial with the official line to balance it out. So, for example when Ai Weiwei was arrested they ran the story of his arrest and then, as if to cover their backs, they ran that famous and oft-quoted opinion piece.


He has a vision. He knows what he’s doing and he knows his audience. I think he wants to make Chinese journalism relevant and that’s why he is inflammatory on purpose. It really is sabre-rattling.

In China you can’t get away from top-down journalism. Criticism can only be levelled at lower officials, you can’t go any higher.

And these criticisms give the illusion that the Global Times is impartial. Hu wants these to give the paper credibility.

Yes, he’s taking a lot of cues from Fox News. He’s learnt how to prod his readership, to rally them.

Hu is always smiling, but he shouts at a lot at the Chinese staff, and forbids them from talking to the foreign press.