Chen Guangcheng on Disability, Human Rights and China

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Guangcheng poses with his wife and John Hockenberry. (Jen Poyant/The Takeaway)

Earlier this year, Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng escaped home arrest and took refuge at the American Embassy in Beijing. Little did he know that he would be studying law at New York University months later, following diplomatic negotiations involving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Chinese officials.

Guangcheng, who is blind, has spent his career confronting the Chinese government’s approach to disability rights, something he’s continuing to do from New York.

In his first national broadcast interview since arriving in the United States, Guangcheng describes the intersection between human rights and disability rights in the United States and in his native China. Chen says that disabled people can hold up "a mirror to society."

Susan Dooha is the executive director of the Center For Independence of the Disabled, New York and Stephen Hallett, the chair of British charity China Vision, translates for Chen. 

Dooha's organization provides services such as housing and food stamps to disabled residents of New York. "I'm very excited to hear how Mr. Chen poses the challenges of achieving disability rights," Dooha says. "We here are only too aware of the need to move further in the enforcement and implementation of disability rights." Disabled Americans, Dooha says, still face significant challenges in terms of education and employment. 

Dooha and Chen both stress the importance of how a society treats its disabled members, and what can be learned from taking a look at the freedoms and limitations of vulnerable citizens. "I think that people with disabilities are often the canary in the coal mine, and when a system isn't working in a way that recognizes the diversity of the community, it isn't working for people with disabilities," Dooha says. "So as we look at the outcomes we're able to achieve as people with disabilities, we're able to recognize where the systems can be improved." 

One of the keys to protecting the rights of the disabled, Chen says, is that disabled people themselves become involved in the struggle to improve their situations. "It's very important that disabled peoples' rights have to be enforced, and have to be protected by disabled people themselves by being involved in that process," he says. 

"It's not so much a matter of actually convincing people through talking to them, it's a matter of acting and being an example to other people, so through our own action we can show that we can bring about change," Chen says. "That then encourages many, many people, a great group of people, to be involved in this process and increase their efficiency to bring about genuine change." 

While he is enjoying his time in New York, Chen says that a return to China is inevitable. He hopes to continue his efforts to curb the uncontrolled powers of local authorities through legal means. "I think the role of lawyers in promoting implementation of the constitution is absolutely essential, and can't be denied," Chen says.

Jen Poyant/The Takeaway
Guangcheng before his interview with John Hockenberry.
Jen Poyant/The Takeaway
Guangcheng in The Takeaway's studio.
Jen Poyant/The Takeaway
Guangcheng poses with his wife and John Hockenberry.


Susan Dooha, Chen Guangcheng and Stephen Hallett

Produced by:

Robert Balint, Arwa Gunja and Jen Poyant

Comments [4]

Elisabeth Pozzi from Lower East Side

Two brilliant minds talking with each other, exploring mindful ways how to approach complex issues like rights of people with disabilities and Human Rights beyond barriers. Thank you so much! You are inspiring!

Jul. 17 2012 03:20 PM
oscar from ny

Seems that china rushes to get things done ignoring the point of the human spirit

Jul. 17 2012 02:30 PM
Larry Fisher from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn

Like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, we are all looking for the courage to face our fears and disabilities.

We are all disabled in one way or another. Most of us suffer from low self esteem and so when we see some one with a physical disability it is the mirror of ourselves that we are actually looking at, and it scares us

One day we will look into the mirror and face our own fears about our personal disabilities. By one day, I mean a couple of thousand years from now.

Jul. 17 2012 09:08 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Mr. Cheng is the Sakharov of China, the Mandela. He will start by arguing for rights for the disabled, but will soon, like Martin Luther King, Jr., start arguing for protection of rights in other areas. You didn't mention his protest against the one-child policy in China.

Jul. 17 2012 07:24 AM

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