Interviews
8:30 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Chen: 'I Didn't Really Understand What Was Happening'

Originally published on Thu May 3, 2012 10:01 am

The Chinese activist who left the U.S. Embassy but then had a change of heart tells NPR from his hospital bed that he wasn't prepared for what would happen after leaving diplomatic protection.

Chen Guangcheng, who spent six days in the embassy after escaping from house arrest, had seemed upbeat a day ago as American officials drove him to Beijing for medical care and to be reunited with his family. He was heading, he hoped, to a new life, with assurances of safety, he believed, underwritten by the U.S.

Just 16 hours later, Chen is close to tears. In a phone interview with NPR's Louisa Lim, he admits he wouldn't have left the embassy had he realized what was in store.

Lim: It's being reported that you changed your mind and want to leave China now. Can you tell me more about why you changed your mind?

Chen: It's hard to say in one sentence. There were lots of problems which make me want to go to U.S. for treatment as soon as possible.

Q: What kind of problems?

It's difficult to say in such a short time. I can't clearly say.

Q: Is your wife with you now?

Yes.

Q: Right now are there local officials [from Shandong] with you that are causing you concern?

They are not with me now, but I don't think that my rights have been very well guaranteed.

Q: Did they threaten you in person?

As of now, not yet. But last night, there was no way that I could call people at all and I couldn't receive calls.

Q: What is it that you want to say to [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton? [Clinton is attending high-level talks this week in Beijing.]

I hope that I can go to U.S. for treatment as soon as possible. I hope that Clinton can help me and my family get passports.

Q: Do you fear that a person like yourself cannot be free or safe in China?

Yes.

Q: How do you feel toward the people at the U.S. Embassy?

The people at the U.S. Embassy are all very good, very kindhearted. But I feel that U.S. government is not pressing hard enough on human rights. Their willingness to protect human rights is not strong enough.

Q: At the time, did the U.S. Embassy tell you that your supporters — the people that helped you escape — that they'd been harassed? Did you understand that?

I knew some stuff, but then, I didn't really understand what was happening.

Q: What do you know now that you didn't know then?

I know that the situation in my home is very bad. I can't get in touch with my family in my village at all. I don't know what's happened to my mother. There are guards inside the yard, in all the rooms, even on the roof. They've set up lots of cameras in my home, and are preparing electric fences. They told my family they'd take wooden sticks and beat my family to death. So it's very unsafe.

Q: Who told you they'd take sticks to beat you?

My family back in Shandong. They don't just want to do that; they've already taken wooden clubs and broken into my house.

Q: But the Chinese government says you don't need to go back to Shandong?

Yes, but I don't think my rights are fully protected now because, as I told you, my phone couldn't call or receive calls last night.

Q: If you knew everything you know now, would you have left the U.S. Embassy?

I don't think I would have.

Q: Do you feel that U.S. officials put pressure on you to leave the embassy as early as possible in order that today's talks should be a success?

I think that was a factor.

Q: Are you disappointed in the U.S.?

I'm a bit disappointed in what the U.S. government has done on human rights. But I'm not disappointed in the American people. From the point of view of values, the U.S. respects human rights, but the government sometimes places more weight on other factors.

Q: Today and tomorrow, what are your plans? Or will you stay in hospital?

I don't know. Now I'm lying in a hospital bed with my foot in plaster. I don't know what the future will be like.

Q: If the U.S. officials come to the hospital to see you, will you ask them to take you back [to the embassy]?

It won't be that simple. But I'll tell them my request.

Q: Have any Chinese officials come to see you these days?

No.

Q: So you've had no dealings at all with Chinese officials?

No, no, no.

Q: Is there anything that they [Chinese officials] could say to you that would make you trust them, or have you entirely lost your trust?

No, I haven't heard anything directly.

Q: And how is your health? What kind of treatment are you having?

Yesterday I did a full body check. Today they will keep checking out the problem of the blood in my stool. Maybe it will be finished this morning. Since last night, I've been preparing for this by taking medication.

Q: Can you see people from the outside while you're here?

I think they cannot, since I haven't yet seen a single friend.

Q: Really, not a single friend? So they're still monitoring you very strictly still?

Yes.

Q: Is there anything else you want to say?

No, nothing.

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