Dissident Chen Guangcheng voiced confidence Tuesday that China’s political system will eventually open up as he urged fellow activists and the United States not to compromise on human rights.
In an address in the US Capitol complex, the blind self-taught lawyer offered his most philosophical remarks yet about China since he dramatically escaped house arrest last year and was allowed to leave for New York.
“There has never been a dynasty that was able to achieve longevity through forceful oppression,” Chen said, quoting a Chinese proverb that “if you carry the hearts and minds of the people, you will carry all below Heaven.”
“We need to bring an end to this period of history during which the communist authority maintains a monopoly on power and enslaves the people through a leadership of thieves,” he said.
Chen, speaking to a crowd including US lawmakers as the actor and activist Richard Gere read a translation, was accepting a human rights award named in honor of late congressman Tom Lantos.
Chen, who was released after a diplomatic showdown between the world’s two largest economies, saluted the “countless human rights warriors who have dared to say no in the face of evil” and called on Washington to stand firm.
“I urge you to continue unwaveringly from your basic principles of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. You must not give an inch or offer the smallest compromise when it comes to these basic principles,” he said.
Chen took heart from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, which in the past two years has taken major reforms including freeing political prisoners, allowing the opposition to serve in parliament and easing censorship.
“What the people of Myanmar do, we can do, too,” Chen said.
Chen denounced “the barbarism of the authoritarian system” as the greatest contemporary threat, saying that such regimes do “their utmost to stop the mouths and bind the spirits of good-willed people.”
“They will ravage you at will. If you resist, they will make you a criminal; if you protest, they will make you their enemy,” he said.
“If you approach them with dialogue and reason and hope that they will give up some of their authoritarian power, you will in effect become an accomplice to their work,” Chen said.