The Evolution of Chen Guangcheng’s “Escape” Stories

16 escape stories with only one that makes sense

The blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng has finally “escaped” the “brutal” treatment of the Chinese “regime” and landed in the “free” world. The world in particularly the American media called this a human rights win for America.

While a million American students reportedly being homeless, Chen and his family of four were given two apartments: one for his personal security, the other at the “ideally located (but expensive)” graduate residence hall in Washington Square Village.

While 48% of American students are burdened by debt, Chen and his family are enjoying free education in the US. Chen is reportedly receiving two hours of English lessons in the morning, and “spends many afternoon meeting legal experts one on one.”

While the American Congress is in a political grid-lock most of the times with no solution to the $16 trillion debt, both sides of the politics appear to unite in welcoming Chen and his family activities in the US. No wonder Chen is having a good laugh the moment he “touches down in US” (see the picture of Chen’s joy).

A critic of Chen story in Toronto’s Globe and Mail believes that: Chen has managed to “leverage the propaganda possibilities into free emigration.”

Is the perception of the critic accurate? I decided to investigate.

Chen on the alleged draconian security surrounding his home

Chen may be blind and isolated, but he appears to know the exact details of the kind of security surrounding his remote village of less than 500 villagers. This is how he describes the security in his YouTube message to Premier Wen – the following is a direct extract from the transcript used by most non-Chinese speaking media to understand the YouTube message:

Starting with my home, they station a team inside the house and another one outside guarding the four corners. Further out, they block every road leading to my house, all the way to the village entrance. They even have 7 to 8 people guarding bridges in neighboring villages. These corrupt officials draw people from neighboring villages into this and they have cars patrolling areas within a 5-kilometer radius of my village or even further.

Besides all these layers of security around my house – I think there are 7 to 8 layers — they have also numbered all the roads leading to my village, going up to 28 with guards assigned to them daily. The whole situation is just so over the top. I understand the number of officials and policemen who participate in my persecution adds up to some 100 people.

The evolution of Chen “Escape” story

Despite 7 to 8 rings of security, Chen had successfully “escaped” and landed in the US embassy in Beijing, 398 miles/641 Km from where he lived. The following are just some of his escape stories – each has became more and more astonishing and murky as the day passes. This is why I called it “the evolution” of Chen “escape” stories. (Note: The following 16 stories appear at some stage to be repetitious, but when you read on, they are different in the detail.)

Escape story told by Hu Jia (a dissident who is supposed to be “under close surveillance,” according to the US-funded Reporter Without Borders on 27 June, 2011, and the New York Times on 28 April, 2012:

The following is a picture of Hu Jia and Chen taken at an undisclosed location in April reported by The Guardian on 27 April 2012. One might take note of their relaxed demeanor before reading the following escape stories. Please note also that this picture was taken soon after Chen “escaped.”

Escape Story 1

This is the BBC (27 April) report:

Hu Jia said

Chen had ‘planned this escape for a long time, he even attempted to dig a tunnel to escape… That failed and this time he tried not to appear in the day time to create the impression for the guards that he never appears in the day. So that won him time, a few days, to climb over all the walls. So he planned this for a long time and made sure the guards had no idea… a night-time escape was not a problem for a blind man, but ‘of course he did fall a few times…’

Note: “fall a few times” and “a few days to climb over all the walls”

Escape Story 2

The US funded Radio Free Asia (30 April) report:

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia … said he heard first-hand the dramatic tale of Chen’s escape from the family home in Dongshigu village, which was guarded round-the-clock by hundreds of officials and hired security guards … In the small hours of April 21, Chen managed to scale a high wall surrounding his residential compound, dropping down the other side, with little idea of its height, or what was at the bottom … He jumped from a high wall in the dead of night and injured his leg … The whole process was extremely painful for him, and he nearly gave up … But he stuck it out, and kept going, in such circumstances … He probably fell over around 200 times … According to [Chen's] memory, it took around 20 hours for him to get away from danger and to meet up with the volunteers [who helped him] … Chen was soaked from head to foot and his clothes torn when he met the two activists who had come to take him to safety.

Note: “fell over 200 times” and “20 hours to get away”

Escape Story 3

The Economist (2 May) report:

Hu Jia, … who met Mr Chen after his escape, says that during the night Mr Chen climbed over the two-metre high concrete wall built by the government to seal off his house. (The house was normally floodlit by his guards, who also jammed mobile-phone signals.) For some 20 hours, says Mr Hu, Mr Chen struggled on his own, navigating ‘eight lines of defence’ and falling down ‘more than 200 times’ before meeting another activist, He Peirong.

Note: “two-meter wall built by government” and “jammed mobile-phone signals”

Escape Story 4

This is how the Guardian (27 April) described Chen’s escape without citing any source:

Chen Guangcheng was said to have fled under cover of darkness, evading eight checkpoints and close to 100 guards who have been watching his home in the Shandong province countryside.

Escape story told by He Peirong (a dissident who claimed to help Chen escape) — the evolution begins here:

Escape Story 5

This is the MSNBC News (27 April) report:

He Peirong told Britain’s Times newspaper that Chen had planned the escape for months. She said Chen climbed over a wall while a guard wasn’t paying attention, crossed a river, and then managed to meet a friend who picked him up and drove him to Beijing.

Escape Story 6

This is the Telegraph (28 April) report:

He Peirong said that Mr Chen had tricked his guards by escaping as they fetched a glass of water, climbing over the wall surrounding his house without help. He then walked for hours to get away from the village. When he contacted Ms He the blind dissident was hidden in a safe house. The group did not communicate with anybody for several days so they could not be traced.

Escape Story 7

The Mail Online (7 May) report:

He Peirong said she had received a surprise email from a source which read: ‘The bird has left the cage. What do we do? … ‘I understand. I’m in Beijing,’ He replied … By midnight the next day she had driven for six hours by car and arrived at the outskirts of Linyi city in Shandong. She was accompanied by Guo … She was adamant that Chen planned the escape all himself, although it is difficult to conceive how a blind man could plan such a complicated sequence of events alone … There was no predetermined pickup point in Shandong, according to He, and when she and the others arrived, they searched for him for two hours … Six people were involved in helping Chen after they learnt he had escaped … more than one car took part.

Escape Story 8

On the same day (7 May), The Independent (UK) had this report:

When Ms He was told Mr Chen had escaped, she drove for 20 hours to meet him, convincing the guards around Linyi to let her past … Having picked him up, she drove him the eight-hour, 450km journey to a safe haven in Beijing … she has refused to discuss the escape further, only adding praise for Mr Chen’s efforts. It is believed Mr Chen feigned serious illness for months before his escape, so that the guards would relax their watch over him and his home … ‘When I got a call from him in the early morning of 23 April, he was already out of Linyi. Then I drove him to Beijing, and I left,’ Ms He said.

Note: 1) This report contains confusing and contradictory statements from He Peirong. At the beginning of the report, Ms. He claimed the guards let her past, and later claimed that Chen was already out of Linyi. 2) The interesting issue is, the New York Times reported on the 18 October, 2011 that “He Peirong, 40, a rights advocate from Nanjing who has made the trip to Shandong four times (trying to visit Chen) — each resulting in beatings.” Therefore, the initial story of the guard letting her past was rather contradictory to her story in the New York Times in 2011. 3) It fascinates me that how the Independent UK was able to produce this kind of report without trying to clarify with Ms He, her contradictory statements about the rescue.

Escape Story 9

The US government-funded Falun Gong media, the Epoch Times (8 May) report:

Ms. He revealed that it took nearly a year to plan the rescue and that after Chen escaped from Dongshigu village in Shandong Province, she received an email from Chen’s family saying: ‘The bird has left the cage,’ Ms He then picked Chen up and drove him to Beijing … ‘His escape was entirely his own effort,’ said Ms He. ‘Chen was completely on his own for the first 17 hours and nobody was there to help him … At one point Chen hid in a pigsty and sometimes in farm fields. He also climbed many walls. Chen had nothing to eat or drink. This is a Shawshank Redemption-style flight … The rescue operation suffered some setbacks, including a flat tire, taking the wrong route, not finding Chen, and even losing Chen at one point,’ Ms. He said in another interview with Voice of America (VOA).

Escape Story told by Bob Fu (founder of the US government-funded ChinaAid who also claimed to help Chen escape):

Escape Story 10

ABC News (30 April) report:

Bob Fu, the founder of ChinaAid, which aided Chen in his getaway, called the escape an ‘extraordinary adventure’ … ‘He walked for hours from his own home in the middle of the night. He was wounded, wet, covered in mud. He swam across a river,’ Fu told ABC News … Fu says it was darkness that gave Chen, who has been blind since childhood, his advantage … ‘[He] has an amazing sense of hearing,’” he said. ‘I think he could really literally feel the direction of the river and the main road and, of course, he was raised in that town and village,’ … Chen was picked up by supporters and driven to Beijing on April 23. Several friends hid him in different locations until his last host was able to reach out to the U.S. embassy in Beijing on April 27, Fu said.

Escape Story told by Guo Yushan (another dissident who claimed to help Chen escape):

Escape Story 11

Huffington Post (30 April) report:

‘Chen Guangcheng’s escape was a miracle, hard to believe unless you heard him tell the story himself,’ said Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based researcher and rights advocate who has campaigned for Chen and helped bring him to Beijing after his escape … He was speaking in his first long interview since he was released from days of police questioning after Chen’s escape became public … ‘He had to climb over eight walls and over a dozen barriers by himself, tripping and falling hundreds of times for 19 hours until he crossed a stream and finally escaped from his village,’ said Guo, citing Chen’s account of how he fled his home Dongshigu Village in Shandong province in eastern China … ‘His whole body was cut and bruised from all his climbing and tripping. His right foot strained so he could barely stand,’ said Guo. ‘By the end, he could only crawl for a long stretch, so when I saw him he looked in a really sorry state.’

Ai Weiwei and Chai Ling

Escape Story 12

Believe it or not, Ai Weiwei and Chai Ling also have a say on Chen’s story.1

More Escape stories

As one may observe from all the above contradictory and increasingly sophisticated escape stories reported by the news media, despite the different people who tell the stories, it is not hard to notice that, the main sources of the stories are Chen and fellow so-called “Chinese dissidents.” Many of these people virtually have no other career, except being full-time dissidents.2 However, they all appear to live reasonably well with car, cell phone, and internet access.

If one traces these dissidents’ histories and compares their stories over a period of time, one will easily notice that, they may be living hundreds or even more than a thousand of kilometres apart, somehow, they manage to get to know each other, and then come together and promote each other stories from time to time. All of their stories appear to be under a standard script of being brutally beaten up, being under house arrest, being missing for hours or days, being isolated from the rest of the world, being under strict surveillance, poor health … etc. But, they all have a pipeline to western journalists and are able to communicate their stories worldwide, including messaging through their personal micro blog, and the use of email, Skype, and cell phone despite the on-going claim of being “jammed” and “isolated.”

Escape Story 13

The news media were totally uncritical to any of these people stories despite the murky detail, which the New York Times did notice. This is the statement they made at the beginning of their report on the 28th of April: “Many details of the escape remain murky…”

Then the New York Times begins telling the escape story without quoting any specific source:

but supporters say Mr. Chen may have been aided by a sympathetic guard. They also say that the night before his escape, he was able to discuss his plans with supporters via cell phone — a remarkable detail given how hard the guards had worked to keep him isolated … Friends said Mr. Chen’s subterfuge was months in the making. In recent weeks, they said, he stayed in bed continuously to convince his minders that he was too weak to walk, or to try to leave … As part of the plan, his wife stayed behind to distract the guards stationed outside the front door … After he scaled the wall outside his home, he hid somewhere before making his way to a predetermined pickup spot almost a day after leaving home. It was then that He Peirong, a rights activist from Nanjing, arrived in her car and drove Mr. Chen to Beijing, according to the account she posted on her microblog account.

Escape Story 14

In Australia, The Age (20 May) reproduces an AFP report with another line of story:

Earlier this month Chen gave AFP a gripping account of his escape, describing how his wife had pushed him over the wall around their small home. He broke his foot when landing, but scrambled to a neighbour’s pig sty, where he hid until nightfall. After a long and painful journey through fields and over walls, he made his way to a friend’s home, then to the US embassy.

Escape Story 15

Like the New York Times, the BBC also realised their previous reports were murky. This is how BBC puts it on the 18th of May: “Just how did the blind Chen manage to evade dozens of guards stationed in rings around his home and village of Dongshigu? This part of the story has remained murky.”

Instead of contacting Chen directly for an answer, BBC continues to prefer the use of third and forth party rumour journalism. This time, BBC cited the account of a reporter from iSun Affairs. The problem is, when you click on the hyperlink for iSun Affairs, the result is: “The page you are finding seem doesn’t exist.” Anyway, the following is an extract from the new version of BBC escape story:

Quickly he crept into a neighbour’s pigsty. The magazine says he’d already planned to use it as hiding place. He stayed there until everything went quiet, and he believed it must be late at night … In the darkness his blindness gave him an advantage over the guards. He felt his way to the Meng River running through his village’s tumbling and falling, hundreds of times. He tried to cross the river but couldn’t because it was too large. So, Chen told neighbours, he simply walked across the bridge. There were guards stationed there. He couldn’t believe they didn’t stop him, but thinks they must have been asleep …

Note: The irony is, Chen has spoken to the media since he left the US embassy: he spoke to the Washington Post while on his way to the hospital in the embassy van; he called the US Congress while in the hospital in Beijing; within days of arriving in the US, he faced media in a public forum such as the Council of Foreign Relations; and was interviewed by media such as CNN and NYR. The fascinating issue is none of these media appear to demonstrate any interest in clarifying or critically clarifying all those murky details in various stories.

Escape Story 16

The Truth about the House Arrest

Despite of the so-called 100 men and 7 to 8 rings of security, the blind Chen had escaped; despite of these news headings: “Chen Guangcheng’s escape sparks China round-up” (BBC, 29 April) and “China tightens restrictions on Chen’s family” (USA Today, 11 May), Chen’s brother reportedly “Escapes Guarded Village” as well (New York Times, 24 May), and “Returns Home” few days later (VOA, 27 May).

The story that makes the best sense is Chen wasn’t under house arrest at the time of his so-called “escape.” On state TV channel, CCTV, a Chinese spokesperson claimed that “Chen was a free person” from the very beginning of the escape saga.

Frustratingly, it took a lot of reading before I managed to find one report in the western media that mentioned the Chinese claims. This is the Guardian report on the 4th of May (bottom up 3rd paragraph): “Chinese foreign spokesman Liu Weimin denied that Chen had been held under house arrest. ‘After Chen Guangcheng’s release from the prison he was a free person, as far as I know. He has been living in his home town.’ China has criticised the US for interfering, and demanded an apology from US Diplomats.”

Conclusion

Chen is — at this stage — obviously the indisputable winner in this “escape” saga. However, what does the media reporting on the issue reflect on itself?

Extra reading: For those who have the time, please read this Washington Post story (11 May): “In Chen’s frightened village, surveillance increases, thugs keep outsiders at bay,” and then click on the video with the image of two cars. Listen to the verbal scripts, and observe the images on the video. You will notice that, the so-called video is a cut-and-paste of still images. When the verbal scripts claim “They block anyone from entering the village, shouting at and kicking vehicles that slow down or venture too close,” there is no footage in the video that supports the claims. In fact, as an experience Washington Post journalist, I wonder why Keith B. Richburg would travel all the way to a remote village, and not record what he saw with a video camcorder. Even if the Washington Post cannot afford to buy him one, he could have used his cell phone to do the job.

Coming soon: Chen and his wife have been badly beaten by the Chinese regime, how true is the story?

  1. Note: Chai Ling, a 1989 US-funded dissident who recently sued by her employee, another dissident (Zhang Jing) for forcing her to attend a daily, two-hour prayer and bible study; when Zhang refused, Chai Ling sacked her. — Courthouse News Service, 19 June 2012. []
  2. For example, if you follow Hu Jia for a period of time, you will find that, he is actively involved in activities across China despite the claim of being house arrest. For example, this is a Hu Jia backgrounder from NTD — an anti-China website with a lot of Falun Gong news (follow the organisations named in this website, do a further search, and you will find that he belong to NGOs that funded by the US).

    If you Google for “Hu Jia funded by NED,” “Hu Jia Funded by US government,” and so on, you can check out a series of info. He has done nothing other than full time dissident.

    He Peirong is a English teacher in 2008 before the Earthquake. She later recruited by these people, and then go full time as dissidents. She live in Nanjing, but at the time of the Chen event, she claim she was in Beijing, she is the one who drive Chen to Beijing and return to Nanjing which is further than Chen Village. []

Wei Ling Chua is an accredited INS and ANFS Freelance Journalist and Independent Researcher of Media Disinformation. He can be reached at: wchua62@gmail.com. Read other articles by Wei Ling, or visit Wei Ling's website.