One rainy night in 2012, he fled the ancient village of Linyi, in China’s Shandong province, where he was under house arrest. Eight years later, he stood on the podium of the Republican National Convention, telling the world that the Communist Party of China is an enemy of humanity.
Chen Guangcheng, a prominent blind rights lawyer living in exile in the United States, was one of the featured speakers during this week’s RNC. Wearing his trademark sunglasses and reading Braille, he said, “Standing up to tyranny is not easy. I know.”
Although the speech lasted less than three minutes, it was one of the biggest public platforms given to a dissident from China, which Chen used to warn the world about human rights abuses in China and the danger of those who prefer “appeasing” the Chinese Communist Party.
Chen praised U.S. President Donald Trump's leadership in the fight against the CCP and urged the rest of the world to join the fight.
"The U.S. must use its values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law to gather a coalition of democracies to stop CCP’s aggression,” he said.
'State terrorism' feared
A day after he addressed the convention, Chen told VOA that he believed he was chosen to speak to warn about how he said the Communist Party threatens everyone’s freedom. He also said he thought he was selected because the Trump administration wanted to send the message that "the days of appeasing China are gone."
In an interview Friday with VOA, Chen accused China’s ruling Communist Party of hijacking the government and the people and using high-tech "state terrorism" to make people too afraid to speak. Overseas, Chen said, China practices infiltration and bribery to undermine the world's liberal order and democratic values. He said the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is one example of how the “evil regime” of the CCP impacted the world.
"It's going to be too late if we don’t wake up now," Chen said. "If America's appeasement policy to CCP comes back, not only China's democracy but the world will be doomed."
U.S. foreign policy on China has evolved over the years as both Republican- and Democratic-led administrations have weighed economic engagement with China’s government against what many see as Beijing's human rights abuses, censorship and lack of political freedoms.
For many years, U.S. officials maintained that economic engagement with China would bring about political change. That has not happened. As China has grown richer, rights activists say, the government in recent years under Xi Jinping has curtailed already limited rights even further.
Chen said that for him, this issue should transcend differences between the two main U.S. political parties.
"If I had received an invitation from the Democratic Party, I would have given the same speech," he said. " I support whoever is anti-communist."
'Universal values,' not party politics
Online, some have taken issue with Chen's speaking at the Republican convention, because he was freed from detention in China during the Obama administration.
Chen said that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s effort to facilitate his rescue had nothing to do with party politics, but was instead guided by "the foundation of the United States —universal values and the right to freedom and human rights."
"It was the American people and American values who saved me, for this is the land of freedom and heroes," Chen said.
Because of the limited time at the RNC, Chen's speech was shortened by the convention organizers. He posted a full version of his speech on the internet. In it, he discussed the disappearance of countless activists, Uighurs in concentration camps, and human rights abuses in Hong Kong. He also mentioned the Chinese Communist Party’s threat to Taiwan and the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.