It’s been a week since Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng left the shelter of the United States Embassy after his daring escape from house arrest.
He checked into a Beijing hospital to get treatment for his broken foot, and hoped it would be just a matter of days before he’d board a plane for the United States.
Wednesday, Chen still lies in a hospital bed. Asked this week if he thought he’d be permitted to leave China soon, he’s upbeat.
“I think I can, because people in the Central Government came to visit me and they have made it clear that they should protect my rights as a citizen,” he said.
Chen clearly thinks like a lawyer.
“I keep telling people he’s not a lawyer,” said Jerome Cohen, Chen’s closest American confidant, and a professor at New York University’s School of Law.
Cohen says Chen never had the opportunity to pursue legal studies.
“I was told no blind man has ever finished Chinese law school,” Cohen says.
These days, Cohen is spending hours on long telephone conversations with his old friend. He’s made arrangements for Chen to study at NYU just as soon as his travel arrangements can be made.
It’s an idea the two have been thinking about since they first met in 2003 when Chen visited the US as part of a State Department program.
Later that year, they met again in Beijing, and went on a shopping trip.
“I bought him $100 worth of how-to-do-it law books which he took home and by the time my wife and I visited his village the following month it was obvious those books had been well-fingered. His wife and his older brother had been reading these materials to him," Cohen said. "Chen and his brother had put them to use. The brother himself would go to court even though he was a farmer who had never been to college. He was an intelligent person and could read well. And they were really forming a kind of barefoot family law firm."
Cohen called Chen, “a quietly charismatic, highly intelligent, very determined, quite articulate person. I thought he and his wife were a great pair, and I got the feeling someday this man could become the Chinese equivalent of a Ghandi."
Gandhi or not, Chen’s fame continues to spread.
The woman who drove Chen to Beijing after his escape likened it to the jailbreak in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption."
The woman wound up being interrogated in a hotel room by Chinese security guards
And in a strange overlap of fact and fiction, the woman said she and the interrogators watched the Tim Robbins movie on the hotel room TV.
But don’t try to find any of this on Chinese microblogs.
The search term Shawshank Redemption, as well as the movie title The Great Escape are now blocked on Chinese social media.