One of the featured speakers at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26 will be Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese lawyer and human rights advocate who has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government— particularly its policy of forced abortions and sterilizations.
Chen grew up in extreme poverty in the Chinese countryside in the 1970s. At the time, China was in the middle of a sociopolitical restructuring— Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s so-called Cultural Revolution.
As he wrote in his memoir, “The Barefoot Lawyer,” he largely had a happy childhood, with his brothers teaching him how to recognize the feel and sounds of things in the world.
Chen lost his sight following an illness when he was five months old. Over the years, he had several operations done to try to help him regain his sight, but none were successful.
His mother and father worked extremely hard. He says his mother would work all day in the fields, and yet often would only earn enough to put food on the table for her children, while she herself went hungry.
As a young man, Chen entered a government school for the blind. His fighting spirit on behalf of social justice began while in school— on one occasion, he advocated for a classmate whom a teacher had assaulted and beaten while drunk. Thanks to Chen’s advocacy, the teacher was forced to apologize.
Chen later launched a campaign to give free bus fare to the blind. At the time, there were laws on the books in China to provide services and accommodations for the blind and disabled, but in practice, these were rarely enforced. Chen spoke out in protest, urging the government to enforce the laws and treat disabled people fairly.
Chen says he faced staggering prejudice from almost everyone he encountered, because of his disability. This included when he got married— his fiancee’s parents objected to the marriage because Chen was blind.
Still, Chen was able to study law and as a lawyer, he uncovered the infamous and brutal forced abortion practices under China’s one-child policy.
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