Secretive government agents pursue a blind dissident who scales the walls of his prison in the dead of night. No, it’s not the next Hollywood thriller but rather the story of Chen’s life.
Blind since infancy in rural China, Chen was barred from primary school due to his disability and seemed destined for life as an itinerant fortuneteller, the traditional occupation of blind people in his region. Instead, through his intelligence and force of will, he finished university—in Chinese medicine, then one of the only degrees open to blind students—and built an international reputation as a human rights crusader. His first book recounts his unlikely rise to fame, his constant harassment by the authorities and his prolonged imprisonment following a quixotic campaign against the one-child policy. Chen’s lawyers chartered a bus to see him in jail, but “it was pulled over by two unmarked cars. A group of men boarded the bus and beat the two attorneys with metal clubs. Both were badly injured, with [one] sustaining a skull fracture.” After serving his time, Chen was immediately locked up with his family in a sort of draconian house arrest, where his dozens of guards competed to see who could shout the most colorful insults at his wife and children. Tense and tightly written, the book is a suspenseful window onto Chen’s struggle, with disaster constantly on the horizon. His courageous escape attempt began inauspiciously, but it ended thousands of miles away with his family safely ensconced in New York. The memoir ends with his arrival in America, omitting mention of how he’s since alienated many of his friends and supporters with his deepening ties to ultraconservative organizations.
Richly layered and vibrant, Chen’s stirring tale of bravery and perseverance in the face of oppression is a moving call to arms for the ideas of human dignity and the rule of law.