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Patrick Cusworth: Chen Guangcheng – a hero for our times

Chen receives his award from Fiona Bruce MP and Lord Alton of Liverpool

Chen receives his award from Fiona Bruce MP and Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Patrick Cusworth is Deputy Chair of Brentford and Isleworth Conservative Association. Follow Patrick on Twitter

It is not often that one meets a hero – and this was no ordinary hero. Last Monday evening, a packed Grand Committee room rose in applause to greet Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese lawyer, who was presented with the inaugural Westminster Award by Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, and the crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, for his work in promoting human rights, human life and human dignity.

Chen first drew the ire of the Communist authorities in his local province when he used class-action lawsuits to defend farmers in land disputes. This anger turned to outright aggression when, refusing to bow to intimidation, Chen exposed systematic forced abortions and sterilisations carried out under the China’s infamous one-child policy. For this, he was sentenced to four years imprisonment, at the conclusion of which he was placed under house arrest. During this time, both Chen and his wife were subjected to beatings, until his well-documented escape and sanctuary in the U.S embassy, and the subsequent negotiations under which China reluctantly allowed him to live in America.

Speaking through an interpreter, Chen began his acceptance speech by underlining what he sees as the biggest problem not only in China but in the world today, namely the ruling Chinese Communist Party:

“They are a dictatorship, and the nature of this dictatorship is the destruction of human life… they can take your life as well as your property”. This is expressed most viscerally in the one-child policy, which began in 1979 and “since then any respect for life has disappeared completely from China”. Those who dare speak out against the policy, let alone attempt to have a second child, are subject to penalties varying in severity. Those who, for example, “opposed the one-child policy can never get anywhere in their job, no matter how good they are”. Such punitive measures can take more extreme forms, however. “In 2005, in my city alone, there were over 120,000 forced abortions and sterilisations”. In extreme cases, “women who were 8 or 9 months pregnant were dragged through the hospital to have forced abortions performed on them. Their families, friends & even neighbours were dragged from their homes, tortured for days, and forcibly sterilised”.

Appalling as such abuses of human rights are, even seasoned western observers were shocked when Chen went on to describe examples of Chinese population control at its most brutal. Recounting one case from 2001, his voice quivered as he explained how the mother of a three-year-old girl was arrested and detained for twenty-four days. The police ignored the mother’s desperate pleas to be allowed to return to feed her child, or to arrange for her to be cared for by relatives. When finally released, the woman was devastated to find the toddler dead from starvation, having left tiny footprints of blood around the house, the bone in her forefinger exposed from attempting to break through the doors and windows of the house. Pausing to recover himself, Chen explained that “every time I tell the story of this little girl, I don't want to repeat it. But if this dictatorship had any human nature, it would allow a mother to look after her child”.

Such cases are not isolated examples. In Shandong province (Chen’s home district), Government bulldozers were recently sent in to destroy local villages, after population targets were not met: “When local women attempted to protest by blocking the road, the bulldozers just ran them over without stopping”. In another case, a farmer was beaten almost to death by over 20 Family Planning officials, because he and his wife had three children.

Perhaps afraid of what he described as China’s “economic hammer”, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have declined to meet with Chen during his visit to the UK to discuss either such human rights abuses, or the UK’s ongoing financial support for organisations such as UNFPA and IPPF, which he and others accuse of assisting the one-child policy.  Yet “the West has not been trading with China, but only with the Chinese Communist Party”, Chen argued, before going on to repeat his oft-repeated call for an end to what was translated as behind-closed-doors discussions over human rights: “The Great Britain government, with its legacy of William Wilberforce, must make its human rights policy clear over all other considerations. Facing the brutality of the regime is the responsibility of your Government. So far, the UK has not done enough”.

William Hague has stated that the promotion of human rights is at the forefront of the coalition Government’s international work, as well as one of his own personal objectives as Foreign Secretary: “It is why we hold tyrannical and repressive regimes to account, and it is why we make every possible effort to ensure that we live up to our own values and obligations”. Addressing China’s one-child policy must form part of these values and obligations, beginning with a full assessment of any British complicity in promoting or supporting it.

We owe heroes such as Chen Guangcheng nothing less. 


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