Some of us are old enough to remember the wonderful 1939 Frank Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart. It was the improbable story of how a non-political do-gooder gets appointed to the United States Senate with the hope of reforming America's political system. In a few days, Mr. Chen Guangcheng, the blind "barefoot lawyer" who arrived in New York from Beijing 26 months ago amid a blaze of publicity, will go to Washington in the hope of reforming not America's political system but China's.
Chen has hardly been idle during his New York sojourn. In addition to studying both American law and the English language, he has kept up a feverish schedule of press interviews, TV and radio broadcasts, and academic and think tank lectures not only in North America but also in many other places ranging from Western Europe to Taiwan. Despite his blindness, with the help of his very able wife, Yuan Weijing, Chen spends gobs of time every day using all the electronic media to monitor developments in China and to keep in touch with colleagues and supporters in many countries. In addition to writing occasional op-eds about the need to oppose China's myriad violations of civil and political rights, he has managed, through impressive discipline, to prepare for publication next spring a memoir of his life in China, including the dramatic Sino-American diplomatic crisis that culminated in his unexpected departure from his motherland.