Chen Guangcheng is a self-taught “barefoot lawyer” who has long worked on human rights issues in rural areas of the People’s Republic of China. Blind since childhood, Chen taught himself law in his 20s and has since been a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities, environmental issues and the welfare of the poor.
Chen gained international recognition for seeking redress against local authorities in Linyi, Shandong, for using unlawful methods to enforce China’s one-child policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations. As a result of his advocacy, he was placed under house arrest, followed by a formal arrest on charges of creating a public disturbance. During his trials, the attorneys hired by Chen were forbidden access to the court, as he was convicted and sentenced to prison for four years and three months. After serving his full sentence, he was released from prison but kept under brutal, illegal house arrest at his home in Dongshigu Village, with guards watching him around the clock.
In April 2012, Chen escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. After negotiations with the Chinese and US governments, Chen decided to leave China for the United States. On May 19, 2012, Chen, his wife, and his two children were granted U.S. visas and departed Beijing for New York City.
Chen was named one of world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine in 2006, and in 2007 was a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership. In 2012 he was awarded the Human Rights First Award and the Lantos Foundation Human Rights Prize.
He lives and works in the United States.