Chen Guangcheng is one of China’s so-called barefoot lawyers, self-taught legal activists who take on cases of government corruption that other lawyers won’t or can’t. He reached global attention when he filed a lawsuit against the city of Linyi for excessive enforcement of China’s notorious one child policy. City officials had forced thousands of people to undergo sterilization or abort pregnancies. Guangcheng even accused them of kidnapping and torture on some occasions.
In response to Guangcheng’s activism, Linyi officials placed him under house arrest, rejected his lawsuit and sent him to trial. The trial was for little more than show, according to the BBC, as all of GuangGuangchengg’s lawyers were detained and not allowed to enter the trial. His court-appointed defender had no knowledge of the case and failed to object to the proceedings, despite Guangcheng’s insistence that he wasn’t getting a fair trial. The trial lasted only two hours and ended with a guilty verdict.
After over four years of imprisonment, Guangcheng was released and placed back into house arrest indefinitely. Various figures, ranging from journalists to Christian Bale, tried to visit Guangcheng, but all were denied access and often assaulted and robbed by the security detail guarding him. Bale had been following the story of Guangcheng and hoped to get the chance to meet him, but after approaching Guangcheng’s house both he and the CNN crew traveling with him were assaulted by guards and chased away.
Finally in April of 2012, Guangcheng managed to escape his captors and traveled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing seeking asylum. Several days after his escape was announced, the BBC reported that a number of people suspected of aiding Guangcheng in escaping had either been detained, or simply disappeared.
Guangcheng’s request for asylum was a tricky proposal for the U.S. embassy. Although they couldn’t turn him away due to humanitarian concerns, sheltering him from Chinese officials strained America’s already shaky relationship with China.
After a tense standoff between Chinese and American officials, terms were finally met, and Guangcheng was released from the embassy. He is currently in a nearby hospital in Beijing being treated for wounds he sustained during his escape. His status is unclear, as he is guarded by police.
So what does all of this mean for China? Combined with the recent scandal involving high-ranking party member Bo Xilai who was charged with corruption, China is beginning to show its instability. The Bo Xilai scandal comes during China’s once-a-decade leadership transition, making things even more complex and tense than usual.
China has also recently released data indicating its economy is weakening. Seemingly untouched by the financial crisis of 2008, China’s mix of authoritarian government and state run capitalism is finally showing cracks, with recent protests and scandals all combining to divide China’s seemingly unflappable unity. Only time will tell if China will be able to push past these defeats, or whether its own inner turmoil will lead to even greater protests and unrest.
Continued economic downturn or unrest could lead to drastic price drops for a variety of products, most notably oil. Less economic growth means less demand for items like oil, which reduces their global price. As China is the second largest consumer of oil in the world, oil prices are sharply tied to its consumption.
If China becomes too unstable, it could lead to a massive worldwide financial collapse, the likes of which would dwarf 2008’s financial crisis. With so many companies having all of their manufacturing done in China, instability would cause serious damage, if not bankruptcy, to these companies, many of which supply a variety of jobs to American workers.
However, if China can survive these growing pains, it could very well be on its way to becoming the next global superpower in just a few decades. With a strong manufacturing based economy and sizeable population, China has the same manufacturing ability that helped rocket America to power after World War II.
Regardless, China is a country to watch in the coming years. Its future is inextricably tied to that of the world.