Blind Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng has been named the Rebel of the Year by glossy U.S. men’s magazine GQ for exposing forced abortions and standing up for Chinese villagers.
In his interview with GQ, Chen said:
China cannot continue on as a lawless society. This is a certainty of historical development. But how will it change? Will it change violently or nonviolently? The manner will be decided by a lot of factors, but change is certain.
International recognition of Chinese dissidents is a continual source of embarrassment for Beijing. On Sunday, pop icon Sir Elton John, who is on tour in China, caused controversy in the Chinese capital by dedicating his entire performance to outspoken artist Ai Weiwei.
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Chen, 41, a self-taught lawyer, is best known for suing the Chinese government in 2005 for forcing several women in Linyi, in eastern China’s Shandong Province, to undergo abortions and sterilizations under the country’s one-child policy. Some were just days from giving birth. “No one except Chen was willing to confront local officials” for their brutal enforcement of family-planning regulations and “by filing a lawsuit on the women’s behalf, he became a hero in Shandong and an important player in China’s nascent civil society,” read his profile on the 2006 TIME 100 list.
After he filed the lawsuit, Chen was placed under house arrest for months and formally arrested in June 2006. Soon he was sentenced to four years and three months in jail. Upon release, he was placed under house arrest again. During this time, “guards routinely stole into Chen Guangcheng’s house, wrapped him in a blanket, beat him bloody, [and] broke his wife’s bones,” wrote GQ.
(MORE: Can Chen Guangcheng Find Justice in China?)
In April 2012, he escaped from house arrest in Dongshigu village, Shandong province and made his way to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, creating political and diplomatic drama between Washington and Beijing. After nearly a month of negotiations between Chinese and U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chen was allowed to leave China to study law in the U.S. He is now at New York University.
“I don’t think that being in the United States diminishes my influence,” Chen told GQ. “I think influence is based on ability and a little luck, not where you are.”
MORE: From New York City, Chen Guangcheng Calls Attention to Rights Abuses in China