China took credit on Friday for its “humanity” in allowing blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng to study in the United States, after he fled to the US embassy in Beijing following months of house arrest.
Chen, one of China’s most prominent human rights advocates, slipped away from under the noses of guards and eyes and ears of surveillance equipment around his home village in late April last year.
He sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing for six days, embarrassing China and creating an awkward backdrop for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit at the same time.
Following intense negotiations between Chinese and US officials, Chen left the embassy and was allowed to apply for a visa to study abroad, ending up at New York University’s School of Law.
Asked about Chen’s case, Minister of Education Yuan Guiren told reporters the issue was simple.
“For one thing, the NYU campus established in Shanghai has no majors for blind people, so it’s not possible for them to teach him,” he said. “As a result, he of his own accord chose to go to the United States to study.
“This should illustrate that the Chinese government has shown itself to be humane and satisfied his desire to study abroad in the US,” he added.
Chen and NYU had a falling out in June when Chen publicly accused the university of asking him to leave under pressure from China, a claim that NYU vigorously denied.
Chen’s claim sparked a debate about academic freedom for US institutions, which are forming partnerships with Chinese universities in greater numbers.
Liberal professor Xia Yeliang was fired from the elite Peking University last month, a decision he and his supporters attribute to his advocacy for democracy and rule of law in the classroom and online.
More than 130 faculty members of Wellesley College in Massachusetts wrote an open letter to Peking University in September saying they would lobby for the cancellation of a student exchange programme between the two universities if Xia was fired for political reasons.