The Corner

How the Times Mischaracterized Me and Chen Guangcheng

I was born in a peasant village in the Shandong Province of China, so I never had free access to news. Growing up, I got information from wherever I could — by sneaking peeks at newspapers from my headmasters and listening to the news announcements in the mornings on the public-address system. I never would’ve imagined that one day I’d be discussed in American newspapers. Since my childhood up in Shandong, I’ve lived quite a life as an activist who escaped imprisonment and persecution in China with President Clinton’s indispensable help. Now, I reside in Texas as the president of ChinaAid, and I sometimes help others escape from the same persecution I suffered.

The most famous person I’ve helped is the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who defied Communist authorities by documenting the scale and scope of forced abortions. Though we didn’t share the same faith — I converted from atheism to Christianity while living in China, while Chen is not a Christian — I believe that no person should face abuse and torture for their beliefs. Chen’s story of perseverance and his courageous escape to America are inspirational, and I’m thankful for the small role I played.

Sadly, Andy Jacobs, who wrote about the controversy surrounding Chen’s departure from New York University, wrote falsely about me in his transparent effort to defend NYU and critique me and others who’ve tried to help Chen. In an article that appeared on the front page on the New York Times, below the fold, he wrote:

Critics say Mr. Fu overstated his own role in the audacious escape and then made use of Mr. Chen’s story in fund-raising appeals to his evangelical Christian supporters. Those appeals sometimes cast Mr. Chen as an opponent of abortion. Despite his opposition to forced sterilizations and abortions, Mr. Chen has said he has no position on the divisive issue.

Let’s take those contentions in turn. First, I’ve been in this country long enough to recognize the use of unnamed “critics” as a method for inserting the reporters’ bias. If there are critics who make such claims, can they not state them on the record?

Next, regarding the contention that I “overstated” my role in Chen’s courageous escape, where is the evidence? I recognize that the credit for Chen’s escape lies primarily with Chen, and the rest of us who assisted played much smaller roles. I applaud my friend for his determination and perseverance. I’m thankful I could help at all.

Additionally, I’ve never mischaracterized Chen’s faith or his political positions. It is telling that the article cannot quote a single misstatement. I’ve always accurately described Chen as an opponent of “forced abortion.”   

In fact, I have never characterized Chen as lining up with me politically or religiously. I definitely wouldn’t try to get Chen to agree with me on hot-button social issues discussed by American politicians today. Chen hasn’t even advocated leaving the Communist party, so why would I ask that he align with Republicans or Democrats? He wants to reform China, not the United States.

In the video he posted after his escape, for example, he said the unjust treatment of his family “hurt the image of our Party.” (Emphasis mine.) After escaping, he told me he wanted the outside the world to know he wanted “to live a normal life as a Chinese citizen with my family.”

Chen and I have differing political and religious views, but we are bound together by common experiences of persecution and by a common commitment to human freedom — my only purpose has been and will be to support Chen and his family’s fight for freedom and human rights. There is no conspiracy. My organization ChinaAid operates as a non-partisan non-governmental independent Christian human-rights organization. Our core mission is to advance religious freedom and rule of law in China. We believe these universally recognized values and rights in China should be a concern to all Americans — conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, and across the political and ideological spectrums.

My experience with Chinese Communism taught me bitter lessons about the extent that ideological zealots will obscure and distort the truth to advance a partisan agenda.  I did not expect such distortion within the pages of America’s most historic newspaper.

— Bob Fu is the author of the upcoming God’s Double Agent: The True Story of a Chinese Christian’s Fight for Freedom and the president of ChinaAid.

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