NEW YORK (Reuters) - Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng soaked up the sun in New York City on Sunday as his children played in a garden, a break in a day of meetings to arrange his studies at New York University.
“(Chen) said he hadn’t sat in the sun for many, many years,” said Jerome Cohen, a China law expert and professor at New York University’s law school, where Chen will study.
“He wanted to go out in the garden ... his kids went out first and then he went out,” Cohen, who has become a confidante of Chen’s, told Reuters.
Chen, 40, a self-taught lawyer who has been the center of a diplomatic rift between China and the United States, arrived in New York on Saturday.
He will study law and learn English at the university, Cohen said. The arrangement was designed to ease Sino-U.S. tension over the Communist country’s treatment of rights activists and dissidents.
Some human rights advocates have said Chen can be more effective in the United States, where he can speak freely.
But Cohen said Chen, who has received a fellowship to study at the university, will likely focus on his studies in the coming year and perhaps not devote as much time to his political activism.
“Maybe he’ll go back to China quickly at the end of the year, if things look good,” Cohen said. “Initially he’s going to put in a year of serious study and he’ll feel his way.”
Chen has said he wants to return to China at some point.
On Monday, the Chinese tabloid the Global Times said Chen would soon be forgotten and, in any case, most Chinese were not interested in people like him.
“After getting to the United States, Chen Guangcheng’s propaganda value for the West won’t be as high as before,” the paper, published by the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, said in an editorial.
“In recent years many ‘dissidents’ have made a rumpus in Western public opinion, but most Chinese people shrug this off and are immune to it,” the newspaper said.
China is engaged in a once-in-a-decade leadership change where seven out of nine leaders in the powerful Politburo are slated to retire late this year. Some China observers say the turnover could bring a degree of liberalization as younger leaders take the reins.
That would make it easier for Chen, who gained prominence in the country as an unlicensed lawyer who worked on behalf of farmers and disabled citizens, and exposed forced abortions, which he said were a result of China’s family planning policies.
Chen’s stay in New York City comes nearly three weeks after he arrived at a Beijing hospital from the U.S. embassy. He took refuge at the embassy after escaping from 19 months of house arrest in Shandong province.
Chen was jailed for about four years starting in 2006. He had accused Shandong province officials of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations, and authorities charged him with whipping up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.
While seeking refuge at the embassy, Chen originally said he wanted to remain in China. But after leaving the mission, he changed his mind and announced he wanted to come to the United States.
“For the past seven years, I have never had a day’s rest, so I have come here for a bit of recuperation,” he said, speaking to reporters at a news conference at New York University.
Cohen said Chen and his wife would study law at the university, but not as degree-seeking students. Because of Chen’s blindness, his wife has been reading law to him for years and is also well-versed, Cohen said.
Chen, who does not speak English, will have private tutors.
Cohen said Chen would study American, international and comparative law, and offer his knowledge on unlicensed lawyers.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Robert Birsel