Chen Guangcheng and the riddle of mouse and mole

Reuters reports that blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) is now under the protection of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, according to human rights advocates inside and outside China. Chen, who has long been an international symbol of China’s human rights abuses — and who became the focus of domestic attention through Chinese social media last year — escaped from house arrest in Shandong province last week.

If Chen Guangcheng is indeed under U.S. protection, the delicate matter of Chen’s escape (already potentially damaging in light of the constant refusal of Chinese officials to deal with clear and systematic abuses) has now become a major diplomatic matter.

The sensitivity of the Chen Guangcheng story can be glimpsed today both in the total blanket of silence that has enveloped Chinese traditional media, and in the robustness of social media controls.

CMP was able to find no coverage of Chen Guangcheng whatsoever in traditional media, and so far (as of 6pm today) there has been no official word from official outlets like Xinhua News Agency.

Following a flurry of discussion of Chen Guangcheng on Chinese social media Friday, we see far more robust controls today. Nearly all possible searches have been blocked, and even the Chinese word for “blind person”, or mang’ren (盲人) — Chen Guangcheng lost his sight during his early childhood — turns up the familiar warning that: “According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, these search results cannot be shown.”


[ABOVE: A search for the words "blind person" brings a warning from Sina Weibo that the search results cannot be shown.]

A number of other search terms we attempted are shown below, with images of the warnings returned from Sina Weibo.


[ABOVE: A search for the Chinese surname of Cheng Guangcheng, but replacing the last two characters of his name with the letters "GC" brings a warning from Sina Weibo that results cannot be shown.]


[ABOVE: A search for the English initials of the three Chinese characters making up Chen Guangcheng's name, "CGC", brings a warning from Sina Weibo that results cannot be shown.]


[ABOVE: A search for Linyi (临沂), the now-infamous prefecture in Linyi where Chen was held under house arrest for 19 months, brings a warning from Sina Weibo that results cannot be shown.]


[ABOVE: A search for the word "embassy" (大使馆) brings a warning from Sina Weibo that results cannot be shown.]


[ABOVE: A search for a shortened form of "U.S. embassy" (美使馆) brings a warning from Sina Weibo that results cannot be shown.]


[ABOVE: A search for the word "consulate" (领事馆) brings a warning from Sina Weibo that results cannot be shown.]

So how do you talk at all about the Chen Guangcheng story on social media? It seems to be a game of cat and mouse with diminishing prospects for the mice — at least over this particular story.

But we did happen across this post by Chinese professor Zhu Dake (朱大可), who wrote cryptically:

[The Story of the Mole] Once upon a time there was a mole who was surrounded by a pack of wolves, but with the help of some mice he managed to escape. The wolves were furious. The mole’s older and younger brothers, his mother and his baby still lived in the burrow. They became the hostages of the wolves. The escaped mole hid in the forest and called out to the lion, but the lion could not hear his fragile voice. The mice in the walls and the mice in the field all passed along the welcome news, but they couldn’t decide whether the [mole's] escape was a victory, or whether it was just the beginning of more hardship.

【鼹鼠的故事】从前有只鼹鼠被狼群围着,却在老鼠帮助下逃走了。狼们很生气。窝里还有鼹鼠哥哥,鼹鼠弟弟,鼹鼠妈妈和鼹鼠宝宝。它们成了狼的人质。逃走的鼹鼠躲在森林里向狮子喊话,但狮子听不见这微弱的声音。家鼠和田鼠们互相传播着喜讯,但它们也弄不清,逃亡究竟是胜利,还是另一轮苦难的开始。

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