God helped me escape, says Chen
Recounting his daring escape from house arrest, blind activist Chen Guangcheng - on his hospital bed in Beijing - said he still could not believe his luck.
'I believe God was helping me,' he told the South China Morning Post by phone.
'It was nerve-racking ... I am not affiliated with any religion, but I believe divine power exists.'
Just a little over two weeks ago, the legal advocate fled from round-the-clock detention from his home village in Linyi, Shandong province, was spirited away by his supporters to Beijing and sought refuge at the US embassy. Before his escape, he had been held with his family for 19 months.
Corroborating his associates' accounts of his escape, Chen said it took him about 17 hours to flee his captors in Dongshigu village.
The night he escaped, he scaled eight walls, avoided being spotted by at least 60 security guards and slipped past several guard posts, he said.
'I spent a long time preparing, and once there was an opportunity, I leaped over a wall,' Chen said, noting his chance came when a guard went to get water. He declined to elaborate further, citing worries about officials retaliating against his relatives who remain in Shandong .
'It was rather dangerous. There were guard posts around each wall,' he said. 'I could only crouch and wait for an opportunity. When I felt they weren't looking, I quickly climbed over.'
When he scaled a fifth wall, he fell to the ground. His foot was injured so badly he couldn't walk.
'I thought: 'Why? Why did God help me get through all those hurdles, and now he gives me this?'
'But there was nothing else I could do, so I carried on ... it's an experience I can hardly bear to look back on.'
The whole time he was without water and food. He slept in a pigsty and open fields before finally managing to get away from his heavily guarded village.
Several kilometres outside Dongshigu, he came across sympathetic strangers who helped hide him. One of them called his associates in Beijing, who came to pick him up.
Chen said that getting help from the good-hearted villagers and supporters whom had never met him, such as He Peirong , who drove him to Beijing, made him extremely optimistic about the nation's future. 'They are China's biggest hope - Chinese people with a conscience, a sense of responsibility and a clamour for social justice,' he said.
Scores of supporters and associates - most ordinary citizens outraged by local authorities' treatment of Chen - previously travelled to Dongshigu to try to visit Chen and his family, who were confined to their house and kept incommunicado since his release from prison in 2010.
He was jailed for more than four years on trumped-up charges for exposing local officials' abuse of the one-child policy through forced sterilisations and abortions.
But before his supporters could get anywhere near him, many were detained, beaten or roughed up by unidentified men, while others were bundled into cars and dumped in the middle of nowhere. 'It goes to show that it is impossible to destroy traditional Chinese values with violent [repression],' he said.
Chen, whose foot is in plaster, is recuperating in a Beijing hospital and waiting for authorities to issue him a passport that will allow him to go to the US with his family to study law.
Chen said yesterday he was confident he would be able to leave, but he was still worried about his family's safety, particularly that of his nephew, who is reportedly in police custody, and his sister-in-law, who he believed was detained by police.
Asked whether his departure from China would mean he could no longer participate in rights activities or help push the country towards rule of law, he said he was not worried as he expects to be able to return.
'I am not worried as the central government has promised to safeguard my rights and freedom. So I believe I am free to leave and return.'
He said it was too early to say whether he would continue to participate in activities to push for women's birth rights and the rights of the disabled when he returns.
'I think every one of us should just do our best to make this society a better, fairer and more civilised place,' Chen said. 'God helps those who help themselves.'