Chen's tackling of rural conflicts exploited by outside forces

By Liu Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2012-5-8 21:25:00

Illustration: Sun Ying

The family of blind activist Chen Guangcheng has been living in Linyi, Shandong Province, for generations. It's an influential family in the local village, and has its own history that could inspire a novel. The family has also had a complicated relationship with other locals.

There is some stories among local villagers, claiming that a member of Chen's family committed a crime decades ago, and tensions between the family and some locals still exist today. There are also speculations saying that Chen's family take advantage of their connections and abuse their privileges.

Such squabbles are common in most grass-roots villages in China. While peoples' relationships may appear much simpler in an urban context, they are tangled in rural areas, where clan culture influences greatly the way people think.

However, these villages do have their unique and traditional ways to solve their own issues, and villagers often prefer these old ways to outside interferences.

Take Chen's disputes with other villagers in Dongshigu. These were originally just simple local interest conflicts. They were common, nothing serious, and could have been solved peacefully, if both Chen and other locals had been determined to do so.

Villagers here are simple people, and many of them have had their living standards improved so that they'd prefer to live a stable and peaceful life free from trouble.

Hence, there is actually strong motive to fix a problem when one arises, rather than to worsen it. And there are also quite a lot of channels to solve such problems peacefully, both by local traditions or via government.

However, Chen learned different ways to solve problems, when he was away from the village. During his stay in cities like Qingdao and Nanjing as a student, or when he was invited to go to the US, he was taught many different ways to solve problems regarding conflicts of interests.

Generally speaking, most people, even after they have learned these new ways of thinking, will understand that it may be inappropriate to just adopt them directly in their rural hometown, because of the culture gap between cities and villages. But Chen is different.

As a disabled man, Chen hasn't received a higher education. He has a very unusual way to deal with his conflicts in rural society. You can say this is paranoid or impulsive. External forces would like to use this to politicize and universalize some of China's social conflicts. But Chen didn't realize he was being used and his case being hyped into a national political issue.

This has made him vulnerable to manipulation from people who have their own hidden agendas. They have convinced Chen that what he thought was right, and encouraged him to use the bits-and-pieces he learned from the outside world to fix his conflicts with his fellow villagers.

Some may argue that the approaches Chen learned from the outside world are more advanced and civilized than the relatively primitive village rules. Change should be a gradual process, while rushing to it often leads to unwanted consequences.

Besides, some of the "universal approaches" Chen learned, particularly when he was in the US, could only worsen his problem than solving it.

For instance, instead of sitting down to talk with other parties he had disputes with, he was encouraged to raise his problem to the State-level, accusing the whole Chinese political system of being to blame, so that a local problem that could have been solved eventually become a national or even an international issue, deadlocked and with hardly any possible solution.

Sadly for Chen, he has been manipulated to believe that this is the right way and the only way to solve his issue. His stubbornness has blinded him from realizing that this will only open him up for political exploitation.

His lack of comprehensive education and knowledge about rights activism has further strengthened his mistaken beliefs. He couldn't tolerate other ways of thinking. If he found out others hadn't been working to his timetable, he would often take that as a threat to his own interests.

Yet this paranoid mindset is what some external political forces need most. They want Chen's case to become deadlocked, drawing in international attention and becoming an issue as big as what has happened in Libya and Syria, so that they can capitalize on this opportunity to demonize China as a whole. They never cared about Chen's real problem, and never wanted a solution, but manipulated Chen into believing that escape is the way to go.

I feel for Chen, for his crying for the UN to save him, for his entering of the US embassy, and for witnessing him moving away from becoming a respected right activist who could have truly benefited China.

The US has granted him a scholarship and promised him a better life, but can that help solve many disputes and conflicts in China's villages? No. That will only end up giving the US another Chinese dissident consuming their taxpayers' money.

But, I wonder, how can they be so cruel as to use a disabled person in their political games?

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer and a blogger. He paid Chen Guangcheng a visit in late December 2011.

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