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What's Next for Chen Guangcheng?

Speaker: Chen Guangcheng, Activist and Advocate; Special Student in Law, U.S.-Asia Law Institute
Presider: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
May 31, 2012, New York
Council on Foreign Relations

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(Note: Mr. Chen's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

JEROME COHEN: Well, it's time to begin now, on a notable precedent: I understand the council has never done a program where everything from now on is in a foreign language. We've had visitors who have spoken in a foreign language, but the presider, et cetera, has spoken in English. We hope it will work. We're delighted to have your interest.

It was just nine years ago this week that I met Mr. Chen and Mrs. Chen here. I told the State -- I told the State Department people I was too busy to meet them. This man had never studied law. I hadn't finished grading my exams. I had to go to China. But they said, this is somebody you're going to want to meet. So I said, half an hour only. And we ended up talking about four hours and became good friends. And later in the year when I went to China, he came up to Beijing, the Tsinghua Law School, then he invited my wife and me down to their humble village in Shandong province. It was an enlightening experience, and we have been friends since, although for seven years until May 19th, we hadn't seen each other.

Well, we're going to begin. Please turn off all electronic devices, including vibrators. Otherwise, we'll have some interference. We're dependent on electronics here -- (laughter) -- for the translation. I think before beginning, I just want to ask Ms. Vin (ph) to stand up. She has been Mr. Chen's adviser. She's gone through hell for many years for him. She's a highly intelligent person, and she may want to participate. (In Chinese.) OK. Yeah, thank you. (Applause.)

(Through interpreter.) So let's start now, shall we? My first question: Right now what is your most pressing question?

CHEN: I think that what I'm most concerned about -- it's also the most important question -- is the state of law in China. It's still very much being trampled on. And more specifically, after I left my home in Shandong, the local authorities there have been having -- retaliating against my family in a frenzied way.

Please think about this. Our central government more than once has stated that I'm a free person; I'm a legal citizen. And I -- it was very normal for me to leave Shandong. After I left Shandong, the local authorities have very -- the deputy secretary in charge of law and order got 30-odd hired thugs with axe handles and busted their way into my -- the home of my elder brother and his son, kicked open their door and retaliated against their family members. I understand that they were very severely beaten, and the axe handles -- they were, like, pickaxe handles -- when -- they broke the axe handles as they were beating him.

And the latest incident -- and so I have is that even my nephew's clothes were torn off, and his head, his arms -- he was injured all over. He was still bleeding three hours after the -- and that kind of situation, my nephew really had no choice but to take a kitchen knife and fight back. And think about this. In the middle of the night, and totally against China's constitution, they broke into a home, harmed people and then robbed him. They took away my brother's communications equipment, including his cellphone.

These are all illegal activities. Nobody is going after them for that. But my nephew, who was about to be killed if he didn't fight back, is now being accused of intentional killing. Is there any justice? Is there any rationale in any of this? So this -- the moral standards here are at rock bottom because any person of conscience would say this is wrong. And as far as I understand, this retaliation is continuing.

And yesterday the lawyer asked again to meet with my nephew and was again refused. And when I -- my friends who helped me leave Shandong are also still coming under pressure, even though I'm legal. What's wrong with them helping me leave Shandong? So if there's no legal question, why are they treated so illegally? So is this authority that can rise above the law to justify all these illegal activities? There's no -- there's no justice in this.

But this is still continuing. And I think that is the most important thing right now. And I think it's something that more people need to care about, that it's a very pressing and important issue.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) But right now -- how is your brother and your nephew? What's the latest news?

CHEN: The latest news is that my brother returned to Shandong but he's still under tremendous pressure. They haven't told me specifically what kind of pressure, but he told me very clearly that he's under intense pressure. And he's been limited in his freedom to leave the village.

More specifically, what I know is that my nephew is still in a detention center. His lawyer cannot meet with him, and no information -- we can't get any information on him. And I -- as -- I understand that keeping him isolated from his lawyer probably suggests that he may be tortured and they're just trying to hide that fact by not letting him meet anyone.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) Have you asked the Chinese government if they can look into your problems in the past? Can you accuse them? What is their response?

CHEN: After I left Shandong, through various channels I raised this very legitimate request of our central government. When I was in the Chaoyang hospital the central government several times sent representatives to contact me. And I, likewise, told them about the kinds of illegal harm that was done to my family over the last seven years. We talked in considerable detail. And more than once they very clearly, explicitly said to me that for these many years, the kinds of cruel and inhuman behavior that my family was subjected to in Shandong will be investigated; that if it violates Chinese law, they will seek truth from facts and publicly deal with this. They gave me this promise more than once. They stressed it.

And I also asked that my lawyer should be involved. And they gave and answered me (affirmative ?). So I still hope that the central government will be able to live up to their promise and investigate this.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) The Chinese leaders now always say China cannot accept the Western-style democracy, Western politics. What do you think of that?

CHEN: Well, I've heard more than once that we can't just copy Western democracy. My first sense is, they're right. It's true; we cannot just copy Western democracy. Some Western countries, they have -- they still have aristocrats and royal families. We can't do that. But we also need to learn Eastern democracy -- Japan, South Korea. And China, what's wrong with us having our own democracy? Taiwan has democracy too.

I still remember -- there's an ancient Chinese phrase -- (off mic) -- yes, we learn from what is good, and what is bad we try to avoid. I think Confucius said that. I don't think we should differentiate between what's us and them. You know, if it's good, just learn from it. If it's bad, don't take it. I don't care where it comes from.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) What is your purpose in coming here? What do you want to do there? What do you want to study? And what do you want to do besides studying? What is -- how's your English?

CHEN: I think I have (had ?) two things since I came here. So the last seven years I haven't had a weekend. So both for my body and my mental health, I need some rest.

Also, the last seven years I've also been illegally isolated from the rest of the world, and my knowledge is way behind the developments in the world. I need to replenish my knowledge.

Also, I think that -- I think I have some understanding of the law in China, but -- basic understanding -- but in terms of how that law's actually enforced, I have my own particular insights. And I know that -- I want to know what are the differences between English and American law versus continental law, so I can have some comparisons.

And also, what role does law play in the society? Why is it that although everybody has laws, in some societies law does function, and some societies act as if we can have law; maybe we can do without it.

COHEN: What is the difference?

CHEN: Particularly, one special concern of mine is laws that protect disabled people. And when I study, I hope I can -- I understand that in New York, you have some people who specialize in laws of the disabled and people who are revising these laws. I'd love to be involved in that process. And I want to combine my studies with that. I don't think it's good just to study in the abstract in an office. I think we need to learn also from what's going on in the world, keep up with latest developments, because then my studies are more practical, more feasible. But in order to do that, I need to lay a good foundation -- my English, for instance. So right -- that's going to take some time. I'm studying. Maybe next week I will be able to study it more systematically. But this is all going to take time. Everything I want to do takes time. But I want to work hard.

COHEN: Besides domestic laws, there is also international law, international civil laws, international human rights laws. Are you interested?

CHEN: Yes, of course. International law -- I think international laws and conventions, China has already signed, like conventions against torture, about civil and political rights. These are universal values that have been accepted by most people around the world. These are basic norms of behavior, and I don't think China is an exception. So I think that they should be norms for our behavior. We should respect them. We should affirm them. But how these are going to be integrated with Chinese law, that will help blur these differences between domestic and international law. And I think international law will play a greater and greater role, and so I'm very interested in it. And I do hope to see how British and American law can -- and compare it with Chinese law and make (some ?) comparisons.

COHEN: The -- China's government always says foreigners shouldn't intervene in Chinese domestic affairs. And they feel that your case is a domestic episode, and foreigners have no business of questioning or investigating it.

CHEN: Well, I think there's international law. There's the question of where the boundaries between that and domestic law is. Take a family. We say, well, OK, family business is my own business. I don't want outsiders meddling in my family business. But then it depends on what is going on in your family.

If -- let's say if either a husband or wife is abusing the other in an abnormal way, or even getting to the point of violence, then perhaps you've gone beyond the limits of what is a family norm, and outsiders do have a right to be involved. And international relations are governed by international law. I think international law should play a role in that if you go beyond the norms, if you are behaving inappropriately towards your own citizens, your own people, I think international law should have some constraining ability.

COHEN: I know when you first got involved in the litigation, you were very interested in protecting rights of the disabled, because you yourself have a disability. Can you tell us what is your attitude on this? How did you become interested in law?

CHEN: Oh, that's a long story. I think it started in 1990 or '91. I was still living in the village. I was just starting to study. And then -- after the Chinese law for the disabled was promulgated in 1991, it had very clear regulations for rural villages and how they were supposed to ensure the rights of the disabled. But the problem is the law was printed and then it was put in someone's drawer and it was never enforced. And I had some personal experience of that. So I started talking to some of the departments concerned, including the Federation for the Disabled and other government departments.

Let's say the issue of tax exemptions. I talked with them many times with no result, and the Federation for the Disabled also didn't seem to have a very clear stand on this. And they didn't have any method to deal with it.

So then I went to some lawyers. And the lawyers said, well, a case like this, first of all, there's no economic payback, and also, legally it might be difficult. So they weren't really interested in taking the case on.

And so after a very long time, I tried all kinds of methods and I found that the other methods didn't seem to work, so I said, OK, law should be -- it should have the power to be enforced, so we disabled people should use the law to uphold our own rights. So I gradually went down the path of using law to fight for my rights.

But in the beginning -- I thought things went well at the beginning, and many other disabled people started telling me about some illegal treatment that they had been subjected to. So then we started slowly going down the road of using litigation to fight for our rights.

I should say overall that -- I don't want to go into details, but all I can say is the path got more and more difficult the further time we went, particularly the litigation. But if we want to fight for the rights of the disabled, (the first thing ?) -- the local governments are just acting illegally. They are demanding taxes, fees, all kinds of charges illegally. And these have to be dealt with through administrative litigation, but in China this is the most difficult kind of litigation.

So it was step by step, but I gradually got interested in law and the question of how the rights of other people were being violated. So that was how I started.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) Now you're here, and I think you're lucky, because New York happens to be preparing to revise its laws regarding disabled people. We hope to improve our laws. We want to get better treatment to disabled people. Are you interested in being involved in that kind of legislation, in government work?

CHEN: Well, of course I'm very interested, but I don't know to what degree I could be involved, because the sense I have is that, you know, people are saying, well, you know, outsiders shouldn't be involved in domestic affairs. And I think in an academic sense there should be no distinctions between countries, so I think it's something we can talk about.

And I think -- I hope that in helping the progress of Chinese law that, you know, the -- smart people from all over the world will help improve our laws. I think that's good for everyone. That's sharing of knowledge.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) I should give the members here a chance to ask questions. Many people are very interested.

COHEN: (In English.) (Off mic.) Please keep your questions short, or your comments, and we'll try to make the most of this discussion. Please stand, wait for the microphone, identify yourself and then speak out.

And I should say we have a wonderful interpreter here who will help with the questions and maybe some of the answers, Ms. C.J. Wong (ph) from Yale University, who's been a great help to us. And we have a wonderful simultaneous interpreter who's back there, Ms. June May (ph), who's the best in the business. (Applause.)

Ken -- (inaudible).

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch. Mr. Chen, let me first just say how much we all admire your courage and your willingness to stand up for principle despite great personal risk.

My question starts with the fact that by the Chinese government's count, there are 90(,000) to 100,000 incidents of public unrest every year in China, most a product of corrupt local officials who could be brought to court by lawyers like you. But after initially -- (pausing for translation) --

COHEN: Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: But after initially tolerating efforts to bring corrupt officials to court maybe five or six years ago, there has been a real crackdown on legal efforts of that sort. So I'm wondering if you could generalize from your case as to why the Chinese government has turned sour on these legal efforts?

CHEN: I feel that the basic reason why all these incidents happen is because society is not being fair. The method that they use -- exert pressure, suppress everything, suppress all the problems -- sort of, if I put a lid on all these questions -- all these problems, then they don't exist.

And the result is that the more you try to keep the lid on, the bigger the problems get. And I'm clear about this from my own experiences in the last six or seven years. The law situation in China has deteriorated. Last year, for the deputy party secretary in charge of law and order to say: I don't care what law is, we're going -- we can use illegal measures; I do as I please. That's a very good example.

I remember, you know, Confucius had a very famous sentence: That if you cannot act fairly, who do you expect to act fairly? And we've had a lot of Confucius Institutes outside of China. So if you're not behaving properly, how do you expect other people to behave properly? If you would lead -- you're supposed to be in charge of law and order, as the party secretary -- and if you're not going to observe the law, how do you expect people to observe the law? What a terrible role model you are.

So I think that's horrible. I think we have to deal with question reasonably, openly, and resolve the problems. And then society will be stable.

COHEN: (In Chinese.) (Laughter.)

COHEN: (Through interpreter) -- give other people a chance to ask questions.

COHEN: (In English.) Susan Shirk, you have --

(Cross talk.)

CHEN: There's so much I have to say. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Susan Shirk from University of California, San Diego. When you petitioned Premier Wen Jiabao, you framed it as a loyal critic in a very Chinese style. And you detailed the stability maintenance efforts and corruption on a local level, and you asked the central government to intervene to solve the problem. How did you think about how to frame your request to Premier Wen? And do you have any -- do you believe that the central government actually knew of what was going on in Linyi? And do you have any expectations that if not this group of leaders, but perhaps the group that will come in next fall will actually do something about not just Linyi, but the security efforts -- excessive security efforts in other villages, too?

CHEN: I think of course they know what's going on at the local level.

But also, I'm also sure that they don't know completely what's going on, because under the present circumstances, they just hear a lot of reports, but they don't have that many channels for directly communicating with their people. Even direct channels are probably being blocked. So what they hear is probably -- to some large degree, is also very biased or very partial in nature.

Oh, one more thing. I think nobody can stop the progress of history. I don't care if it's the central government. Whether the central government wants move forward, ahead or backwards, it's going to be forced to move forward, you know. Marx said the productive forces determined productive relationships. So if the government wants -- the central government wants to do it, of course they can do it. But it will take time, and it will need support from the people.

COHEN: (Off mic) -- get through everything, then to Elliott (sp).

QUESTIONER: (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible) -- to the United States -- (inaudible) -- does not come out and just go home. What will you do in the U.S.? What role can you play in the U.S.?

CHEN: Let's not do assumptions. I think we can see that the central government is letting me come to the U.S. to study. That is unprecedented, regardless of what they did in the past. As long as they're beginning to move in the right direction, we should affirm it. We shouldn't be just in this habitual habit of challenging what they're doing. You know, if somebody has always been doing good and they do something wrong, you should say, oh, you did that wrong. But if they've always been doing something wrong, and now they're doing something right, we should say yes, you did that right. And I think we deal very factually like that and not have assumptions. If we just have -- do assumptions, we're going to have a lot of problems. All kinds of issues are going to come up.

So they made a promise to me that they're going to thoroughly investigate the Shandong authorities. I'm waiting because there's such a big difference between what the central government is saying and what the locals are saying. So I'm waiting. We also need to supervise and urge them, press them to do what they promised.

COHEN: Here we have from Berlin, from Elizabeth Pond, who's a journalist and author -- and her question is: How important is the condemnation by the -- of the Tiananmen massacre by the 1989 Beijing mayor, Chen Xitong?

CHEN: I think that -- the question is who exactly is controlling society's resources. Whoever is in control is the person who should be responsible for the problems in society. If you control all the resources in your hands and you won't assume the responsibility, that makes no sense. So it's like my case. The local party secretary is also -- is both the supervisor and also the administrator.

And based on my experience, I can give you an example. Last year there was this problem. The party secretary is the number one person. He's also the number two person as he can give orders. But he has -- he needn't assume any responsibility. If you're going to sue someone, you can only sue number two; you can't get at number one. And I think that makes no legal sense at all.

The second thing is the question the -- who's high in the hierarchy. Last year, Chang Xingpai (ph), who is our party secretary, in October he wanted me to move to a prison. And then when there were so many people concerned about this, then in November he said, oh, our -- I don't agree with -- my superior said they wanted to do this, but I'm being forced to do this. I have no choice; I'm just following orders.

And I said to him -- I said, so you're saying if they tell you to be a robber, you're going to be a robber? And he just smiled.

So I think in so many cases, these administrative orders -- if they have no legal basis, they're not being corrected. And that's a very serious problem.

This question you asked me just now -- it's so similar to my problem from my experiences. The central government needs to -- with the case of Tiananmen, they also need to handle it as my case: just study it, get the facts out and stop trying to put a lid on it -- stop, you know --

COHEN: Yes, please.

QUESTIONER: Hello, Mr. Chen. I'm Ron Tiersky from Amherst College. Since (we put ?), we could say that there are two places that change could come about in China. One place is from the outside, whether outside people outside the party in China or pressures from abroad.

But there's a second place that change could come, which is from inside the party itself. The -- we talk about "the party"; we talk about "the regime." I would like to know to what extent do you see a struggle going on, particularly within the top leadership, between, you know, the old-style communists and what we might call, I don't know, national patriots or people with something -- some ideas like your own?

MR. : Oh, was there any --

CHEN: I think in any system, it's -- there's no monolith. Everybody knows that. Also, as I was saying just now, in China, everything is in a state of historic transition. And at this time international concern is very important. You mentioned external forces just now. I said, if it's sincere, if it's responsible, if it's out of the desire to help, I think that's very important.

But in the end, the development of civil society in China and how to have it function well after it's established -- that's going to depend on the Chinese people. If the Chinese people don't care about how their own society operates, what -- how can that society function?

On that issue, I want to make a point very clear. Many people -- especially if it's a big problem, many people -- they want -- they want to move the mountain in one week. That's not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit and start with ourselves. If everybody would do that, then maybe the effect would be very good. But you can't expect it to happen overnight.

COHEN: (In English.) Thank you very much for your comments. You are not the only lawyer who has been detained or abused by Chinese authorities. During the past several years, dozens of lawyers have been detained, and some have been tortured. What can American lawyers, American law firms, American businesses doing work in China do to help change that situation?

CHEN: Well, of course they can be very good help. I think there's no doubt about that. But I think the most important type of help has to go into the grass-roots lawyers. That -- for instance, in the rural areas -- need to have exchanges with them, have some contacts with them.

Beginning in the '90s, I know that many democratic countries have had law dialogues with China -- (inaudible) -- and also, let's say, helping with training programs for procurators and others in the legal profession. That's been very helpful. The problems now is, it's not that there are no laws; it's that we have laws, but they're not being well-enforced. That's the first question.

The second question is the judicial agencies. They themselves are not being told to enforce the law. They're being told to do things illegally, and they're not being -- they know that what they're being told to do is illegal, but they have no choice.

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) But the question is, what can American lawyers do? If the American lawyers know what a situation -- what can foreigners -- should they be doing something? Do you have any suggestions?

CHEN: Well, yes, of course I think they can do something. As I said, you can -- you can have contacts with Chinese rights lawyers. Try to at least find out from them what the facts are, because in China seeking truth from facts and liberating thinking is written into our constitution. It's also written into the constitution of the charter of the Communist Party. So if you do it on the basis of seeking truth from facts, I think it can help move things forward.

COHEN: He needs a mic -- yeah.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, thank you. My name is Roland Paul; I too am a lawyer. I'd like to ask you a question about your flight to the embassy. When you fled to the American Embassy, did you know that you would be able to get into it and did you -- did you time your flight knowing that there was a large, very high-level American mission, including the secretary of state and the secretary of Treasury, going to China? And it was reported that you first said, I want to stay in China, and then you changed your mind and said, I want to come to the United States. Why did you change your mind? Thank you.

CHEN: Well, first I should say I don't like the term "fleeing" to the U.S. Embassy, because at that time I was only taking refuge. There's actually -- in Chinese law, there's a definition of taking refuge.

As to whether or not -- I didn't know there was a strategic dialogue going to happen because I had been cut off from communications with everyone. I was just isolated from the rest of the world. So that was a total coincidence.

As to whether the U.S. was going to take me in, this was the way it was. The U.S. holds itself up as embodying democracy and human rights value. If -- what would it mean if they refused to take me in? I think you can all imagine that. I think, on the surface, it seems to be a diplomatic question; but the question is, do you -- do you try to save someone who's in danger for his life?

COHEN: (Through interpreter.) (Off mic) -- after getting into the U.S. embassy -- (inaudible) -- you went to the hospital and then you changed your mind -- (inaudible) -- tell us -- (inaudible.)

CHEN: While I was in the embassy, I said I didn't want to leave China because I -- what I meant was I didn't want asylum. That was the -- after the diplomatic agreement was reached between China and the U.S. and the central government guaranteed my personal safety -- in other words after I left the U.S. embassy -- I enjoyed those rights that the government guaranteed me and so one of those rights is the freedom to travel in and out of China. Now you feel I changed my mind, but I don't feel I changed my mind. I'm here to study. Now that I have that guarantee of my right, I can do so.

I think the -- maybe if you feel there were changes, it was because the time was so short. If I had waited six months and said, now I want to go abroad to study, you would have thought nothing of it. But because it happened so quickly, you know, people think something happened. But I think -- I do want to go back to China and then come out again to study. As long as they will guarantee me what -- my rights as a citizen, that's normal.

QUESTIONER: This is David Phillips with Columbia University.

Mr. Chen, what is your view about the self-immolation of Tibetans? Do you think that the laws and regulations on the protection and promotion of Tibetan identity are adequate and what can be done to better enforce them?

CHEN: I think you have to look at it this way: for such a long time, regardless of what they illegally detained me or abusing me, the word they often used was they said I was a traitor. They said I betrayed my country. And I think the term "traitor" has a long historical background. And what it means is they have forgotten that -- you know, the term in Chinese, it means a betrayal of the Han people. But you know, that very term means that they forgot that there are people in China other than Han people, that it's -- you know, only people who have forgotten the other ethnic groups would use that word.

And so I think the problem now is that they're not looking at Tibetans as a fraternal ethnic group. So I think all the ethnic groups need to see each other as brothers and sisters. And everybody should be treated equally. And I think that would solve the problem. That's my own personal view.

Now, any ethnic group, like a person, if it's right they're being trampled on, it -- you will instinctively have a reaction. No doubt about that.

COHEN: (In English.) Yes, sir. Please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Tony Wilson (sp), Standard Chartered Bank. I wonder, Mr. Chen, if you could comment on the Bo Xilai situation, if you're able to, and what changes, if any, we may see coming from it.

CHEN: Well, I'm sure there will be developments. There's no question about that. In fact, it's -- the case is already developing now. But the Bo Xilai incident reminds me of another incident. If I remember rightly, I think it was either '08 or '09 in Shandong, we had somebody at the level of a vice governor in Shandong province, out of his own interests, in order to keep a cover-up on what he had done -- and he had a mistress who he had kept for 13 years. So he used a remote-controlled bomb by one of his henchmen to blow her to pieces.

So Bo Xilai is not an isolated case. We had something like that in Shandong, and I'm sure that was not the only case in Shandong. And Shandong needs to be dealt with very carefully and thoroughly. So if the central government were to look -- doesn't control party members and doesn't control officials, they'll lose control.

COHEN: Obviously, and that link relates to what he wrote yesterday in the Times: Lawlessness is involved in that case too. The party leadership says, we're handling everything according to law. But the world knows Bo Xilai has never yet gotten to the hands of a legal official. He's totally in the custody of the Communist Party discipline inspection commission. Oh, there's a link here.

Yes, next (our ?) question, please.

QUESTIONER: Nick Brant (sp) with Lazad (ph). Thank you for your comments. I wonder if you could tell us how optimistic you might be about whether or not we will see genuine democracy in China in your lifetime.

COHEN: He's only 40.

CHEN: I'm very optimistic because I think it would be giving too much time to say "in my lifetime." I think even over the last few years as the information age has developed so quickly, China's society has all gotten to the era where you don't want something known, you better not do it. So people are using all kinds of means to disseminate information.

Can you really do cover-ups? No, that possibility is diminishing. So for officials to ride on top of the constitution -- and I think that possibility is less and less likely to be accepted by the people. So I think China will be changing very quickly, but it requires everybody to be involved.

COHEN: Please.

QUESTIONER: I'm Lucy Komisar. I'm a journalist. Corporations over the last decade and more have moved into China because it's a very good market and also because they can produce items there more cheaply than in the U.S. But what kind of citizenship should American corporations have in China? Do they have a role to play in promoting human rights both in general and also in how workers are treated, particularly in workers' right to organize unions?

CHEN: I think you should ask foreign corporations that question. That would be more appropriate, because if you must have me say something, I can -- I can only approach it from another angle. Somebody who is penniless and somebody has a hundred thousand, they're in very different positions. Someone who has a million and is also very -- not that different from somebody who has a billion, because once you've solved your basic livelihood, the next thing you need is going to be a spiritual life. I think that would be my answer.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Chen, "mihao" (ph). Welcome to New York. I am Minky Worden from Human Rights Watch. I hope you will have a chance to get a good night's sleep while you're here.

And I wanted to ask -- in your New York Times piece today you say that China has many laws, but no rule of law. Isn't the real problem that the Chinese Communist Party is not yet -- is still above the law, is not yet subject to the law? And what is the process for ensuring that Chinese Communist Party can eventually be subject to the law, as citizens are?

CHEN: I think that Article 5 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China says at the beginning that the country should be ruled according to law and to build a country with rule of law. Article 5 is that all political parties, all social organizations should -- et cetera -- all have to operate within the limits of the constitution. That is to say Article 5 is already clearly telling us that there are legal provisions. So why should these -- party -- why should the party not observe the law? I still have to study that.

Their monitoring of the party -- there's not enough monitoring by the people. If they break the law, they don't get into a lot of trouble. They may -- they can break the law because they can get away with it. If breaking the law brings you a lot of problems, then they will control themselves.

COHEN: (In Chinese.)

CHEN: Taiwan has already been through that in the '80s. Maybe this is something -- a stage that every society needs to pass through.

COHEN: (In English.) It's 1987 of becoming a democratic state, having been a highly dictatorial party-controlled legal system. And they've done it without a revolution. They've done it peacefully. That's why he mentioned earlier Taiwan is worth studying. But yes, please.

CHEN: Interests cannot be protected by the law -- those interests in the law -- the legal --

QUESTIONER: I'm Caroll Bogert. I'm a little embarrassed to be the third person from Human Rights Watch asking a question. (Laughter.) Can you tell us how you did inform yourself in the period of time in Linyi? You mentioned you were in a kind of information blackout, but you do seem to know some things about what's been happening in your country. And how easy is it or how important is it for Chinese citizens -- netizens, as they are called -- to get over the great firewall in China, to inform themselves accurately about events in your country and abroad?

CHEN: Well, first of all, I did get very little information. You think I knew something. Partly it may be because I wanted to find out as much as I could. The second thing is, when I was able to get information, I would use -- make full use of that opportunity. If I had always had free access to information, perhaps I could answer questions better.

But in terms of netizens, in terms of the general Chinese public, in terms of their broad participation, in terms of their getting information from many sources through many channels, that will play a very important role in China. We have a saying that if you only hear one side, you will be kept in the dark. You will only be enlightened if you hear all sides. So you need comparisons. You can only make correct -- come to correct conclusions by getting as much information as possible.

I think the simplest (phrase ?), if you don't want people to be able to see something, that means you're afraid of something. If you did the right thing, why would you be afraid of letting people know? Why would you be afraid of others commenting on it? Why would you not want people to know about it? So I hope that the netizens won't have to go through a firewall and still get a lot of information.

And that tells you about another problem, that you cannot suppress the basic goodness that in the human -- that is in human nature. I think that goodness will come out to the fore more and more and society will care and more about these -- this is unavoidable.

COHEN: Yes, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Chen, your experience has shed light on the human rights situation. So this is a more general question: Do you believe that it will serve to open up the Chinese society? Will they be better on human rights or worse? And if they're watching this program today and reading your op-eds, for example -- which I imagine they both do -- will they react positively and try to change things or shut things down? Thank you.

CHEN: This makes me think of something else, regardless if it's my case or other violations of human rights or cases of humans rights -- (inaudible). I think maybe people in the outside know more about this.

But what I want to know is although there's so many -- such cases, so many examples, and yet when you look at the human rights situation, you still see that there are people pushing the human right -- but you still don't see the real picture of human rights in China. The human rights condition of your ordinary people in those cases may be even more numerous than you're aware of.

But as for your second question, what will the -- you think that the central government may know about this program, and -- (inaudible) -- I think they will have a correct response because they were very clear in May. I think that is right in front of us. Otherwise I wouldn't be here talking to you if they hadn't made the correct decision. So I think liberating our thinking is in our constitution. I think they will do it. But local authorities, they're very backward, and I think it's going to take more time to change them.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Chen -- (in Chinese). My name is Martin Flaherty. Among other things I'm with a group called The Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, which Jerry and Bob Bernstein are involved with as well. My question is, you've talked about law firms and business more generally. What are things that the United States government should and should not do to promote the rule of law in China?

CHEN: Well, they can try harder. (Laughter.) Why? Because we see that if you try harder many things can be done. At least a lot more can be done than is being done right now. Now maybe there may be many other aspects. I know that it's a very complicated thing, this diplomacy between big countries. But no matter how you put it, human rights is a very basic human value. If this very -- if you can't even care about these such fundamental human values, the other interests are very superficial by comparison. We say in China, you don't want to care only about the branches and forget about the core. You're an ordinary Chinese citizen, but you wouldn't understand the situation in rural villages. What -- you know the attitude of the ordinary -- so from the viewpoint of the ordinary Chinese, would you -- what would they like to see the American government to do? If you can't talk about it now, maybe in a year's time.

I'll answer your first question. People in China's villages, they're all very good people. A rational society, a law-abiding society would allow people to very naturally show their innate goodness. If you turn it around right now, if you try to show your goodness, you may be in danger. When you look at how many people are getting beaten up in the -- (inaudible.) How a --

(Crosstalk.)

COHEN: (In English.) And I want to thank -- (applause).

CHEN: Thank you. (Applause.)

I just want to offer one last word. As I see it in this world, there is nothing that is impossible. If you want to do it you can think of a way to do it. There is nothing -- there is no such thing as a difficulty that cannot be overcome. I don't know what you think of this, but I think that every person, if you try hard, you can do so much better than I can.

COHEN: Oh, it's already done. Good. All right, thank you very much. (Applause.)

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