Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 9:39 a.m.
Beijing might have us beat in regards to population and the Olympics opening ceremony but there's no place like New York. And the blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng will soon discover that.
This morning, the controversial figure who has given American diplomats a few headaches in past weeks boarded a plane leaving Beijing and landing at Newark International some time this evening. The State Department confirmed
the news soon after a three-week passport process that ironed out the kinks of the ambassadorial deal was completed.
Once he arrives in the tri-state area, Guangcheng will enter the ranks of academia
at NYU Law's US-Asia Law Institute as a visiting scholar. Professor Jerome Cohen, the co-head of the Institute, has been in contact with the Chinese national since rumors of the exchange began and, even two weeks ago, he said, "When he gets those updates [on his passport], he'll be on a plane immediately."
Looks like that day has finally come. Welcome to the Big Apple.
For anyone who doesn't know the background story of Guangcheng (but, with the media spotlight on him, that's almost impossible), here is a quick summary:
In 2006, Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of women in his region. The reason: the Chinese government had been reportedly forcing the women into abortions and sterilization. Instead of responding to the accusation, the Communist Party detained the blind man for four years and cut off all his communications with the outside world.
Then, in 2010, he was released but put under serious house arrest. The Chinese government kept a close eye on his house and fended off fellow activists and supporters from visiting him. Surprisingly, last week after 19 months under house arrest, Guangcheng escaped from his house in the middle of the night and sought political asylum at the American embassy.
At first, the activist wanted to reclaim his and his family's freedoms in China but that deal soon unraveled. Soon after, he decided, through tense negotiations between the American and Chinese governments and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's approval, to leave the country for good and further his legal knowledge at that little school in downtown Manhattan.
And that's where we find ourselves today. Every New Yorker has a story.