Chen Guangcheng

Blind Chinese civil rights activist and former political prisoner who has worked on human rights issues in rural areas of China.

Chen
Guangcheng is a blind Chinese civil rights activist who has worked on human
rights issues in rural areas of China. A self-taught legal worker, Chen faced a
series of prison sentences and periods of house arrest after organizing a
landmark class-action lawsuit in 2005 against Chinese authorities for excessive
enforcement—including forced sterilizations
and abortions—of the country’s one-child policy. After a trial—during which his attorneys were prevented from entering
the court—Chen was charged with “damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb
traffic” in retaliation for his advocacy. In April 2012, Chen escaped from
house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He now lives with his
family in the U.S.

Chen
was born in November 1971 in a small rural village in Shandong. He lost his
eyesight due to a severe fever when he was six months old. However, he was not
deterred from developing his interest in a legal profession. Chen’s family read legal texts to him and he audited classes
at Nanjing University. A largely self-taught legal worker, known as a “barefoot lawyer” in China, Chen used his education
to advocate for the rights of rural villagers and individuals with
disabilities, submitting his first legal petition in 1996. He attracted
international media attention in 2000 after submitting a petition to close a
paper mill, which resulted in a landmark class-action lawsuit against officials
in the city of Linyi.

Since
his arrival in the U.S., Chen has devoted his work to studying English and
collaborating with American legal scholars. Chen was named one of TIME’s 100. He also received the Ramon
Magsaysay Award and the Human Rights Award from Human Rights First. Chen
Guangcheng continues to denounce one-party rule in China and frequently
publishes editorials outlining the regime’s human
rights violations and the lack of rule of law in his country. He is a
Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the Witherspoon Institute and a
Senior Distinguished Advisor to the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.