Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China

Posted by nliakos on January 30, 2016

by Chen Guangcheng (Henry Holt, 2015; ISBN 978-0-8050-9805-1)

Do you remember hearing about Chen Guangcheng’s incredible escape from house arrest in China in 2012? I thought at the time, this is impossible…  a blind man with a broken foot–how could he have pulled this off? So I read the book to find out. It did not disappoint. The story of the escape was indeed amazing, but the story of Chen’s life as a person with a serious disability in rural China is even more amazing. Deprived of an education until he was well into his teens, and then expected to follow one of the few career paths open to the blind, Chen learned to read and write in Braille, then attended college to become a doctor of Chinese medicine, only to reject medicine for the law, which he taught himself so that he could advocate for himself and others with disabilities, and later for people who ran afoul of the One Child Policy. The sometimes violent resistance with which he was met did not frighten him. Even when he was imprisoned for seven years on a trumped-up charge, he never ceased demanding his rights and those of other people. But in China, people don’t really have any rights. There are laws, yes–Chen learned the laws and set about trying to right the wrongs that happened when they were not obeyed. But China is not a nation where everyone is equal under the law, far from it. As described in this book, China is a nation where Communist Party members–who are in charge of everything and everyone–can do pretty much whatever they want with impunity. As we know, power corrupts, and Chen saw rampant corruption in every aspect of his life. Over and over again, officials, cadres, and just plain thugs taunted Chen with his inability to force them to obey this or that law. But he never gave in, and he never stopped trying. What an inspiration!

When Chen was released from prison, he was taken straight to his village and put under a brutal house arrest for the following two years. He was forbidden from seeing or talking to anyone outside of his immediate family members, who were also harassed and oppressed because of their proximity to him. He was refused permission to see a doctor for his medical problems. He and his family could not work their land, and their few possessions were stolen. In the end, he felt that escape was his only option. Although he wanted to remain in China to continue his work, he was ultimately convinced that this would be impossible, and he and his family were able to emigrate to the United States, where he wrote this book.

I was kind of surprised at how Chen named the people (relatives, friends, neighbors, lawyers…) who assisted him in his escape, because those people are still in China and are vulnerable to reprisals by the thugs who made his life such a hell. (Similarly, I wondered that he escaped leaving his wife, his mother, and his young children behind to deal with the fury of the outwitted guards.) But really, I was mostly amazed at his courage, his integrity, and his ingenuity.

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