Passport

A Chen Guangcheng primer

The blind, self-taught legal activist Chen Guangcheng has escaped from his village in Shandong province where he was kept a prisoner in his own home and fled to Beijing. The New York Times quoted an official at the Chinese Ministry of State Security as saying Chen had made it to the U.S. embassy, though the State Department hasn't confirmed or denied if Chen is inside.

Chen become famous for filing a class action lawsuit in 2005 on behalf of woman who underwent forced sterilizations; he was later imprisoned for three years for "damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic" and then kept under de facto house arrest. Chen's house became a spot of pilgrimage for human rights activists, a sort of adventure tourism for Chinese who wanted to experience for themselves the thuggishness their country has to offer. Batman actor Christian Bale tried to visit as well but was forcibly turned away; "What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is" Bale said at the time.  

It's a sensitive time for the United States to consider offering Chen asylum, as China is still reeling from the downfall of high ranking leader Bo Xilai, a scandal precipitated by an associate of his seeking refuge in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. 

This is at least the second time that Chen has escaped from house arrest. "The night gives me an advantage," he told Time Magazine, after fleeing from an early house arrest in August 2005 to Beijing. "I can navigate better than people with sight can."

LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images

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