STARRED REVIEW
March 04, 2015

From self-taught lawyer to global activist

By Chen Guangcheng
Review by
You don’t have to be an expert on Chinese proverbs to discern what might happen when an egg meets a stone, but you will understand much more about modern China and its struggling people when you meet this fearless egg: Chen Guangcheng, the narrator of the riveting memoir The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China. Born in 1971, blind since infancy, growing up in dire poverty, Chen learns to escape all his constraints. Barred from the village school and its force-fed propaganda, Chen instead learns from his father that the folktales and myths of his homeland carry a message: As surely as empires will rise, corruption will bring them down. Justice must find its way.
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You don’t have to be an expert on Chinese proverbs to discern what might happen when an egg meets a stone, but you will understand much more about modern China and its struggling people when you meet this fearless egg: Chen Guangcheng, the narrator of the riveting memoir The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China. Born in 1971, blind since infancy, growing up in dire poverty, Chen learns to escape all his constraints. Barred from the village school and its force-fed propaganda, Chen instead learns from his father that the folktales and myths of his homeland carry a message: As surely as empires will rise, corruption will bring them down. Justice must find its way.

Soon Chen becomes a “barefoot lawyer,” self-taught and fighting for rights for the disabled, including himself, rights which exist in Chinese law but not reality. He learns the wisdom of using media to bring victims’ struggles to worldwide attention as he exposes the brutal violence that enforces the government’s one-child policy. The perils of his activism will eventually wreak havoc on anyone who befriends him, endangering their lives as well as his own.

Imprisoned for more than four years on false charges and in failing health, Chen is forced to endure house arrest. He can go nowhere, speak to no one and receive no medical treatment, surrounded by forces hoping he will die. Instead, in 2012, Chen miraculously escapes and flees—despite a broken foot—to the American embassy in Beijing. After a series of diplomatic firestorms, in themselves a gripping tale, Chen finds safety in America. Only broken promises and more troubles, however, befall his extended family left behind.

This is a story that will go on. As a presidential election year nears and foreign policies are scrutinized, Chen, as outspoken as ever in Washington, D.C., will no doubt see to that.

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The Barefoot Lawyer

The Barefoot Lawyer

By Chen Guangcheng
Holt
ISBN 9780805098051

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