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Dissident at the Doorstep
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Dissident at the Doorstep

Author: Crooked Media

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What happens when someone becomes a human-rights icon – but then turns out to stand for something else entirely? Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was locked up for fighting against China’s One Child Policy and suffered years of unlawful imprisonment. In 2012, following a daring midnight escape, he landed in the United States a hero. But that’s only the beginning of his story. Just a few years later, he would re-enter the spotlight as an avid Trump supporter and a “Stop the Steal” rally-goer. How did this happen? Alison Klayman, Colin Jones, and Yangyang Cheng set out on a journey to find out – did Guangcheng change, or was he totally misunderstood from the beginning? From Crooked Media, This is Dissident At The Doorstep.
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What happens when someone becomes a human-rights icon – but then turns out to stand for something else entirely? Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was locked up for fighting against China’s One Child Policy and suffered years of unlawful imprisonment. In 2012, following a daring midnight escape, he landed in the United States a hero. But that’s only the beginning of his story. Just a few years later, he would re-enter the spotlight as an avid Trump supporter and a “Stop the Steal” rally-goer. How did this happen? Alison Klayman, Colin Jones, and Yangyang Cheng set out on a journey to find out – did Guangcheng change, or was he totally misunderstood from the beginning? From Crooked Media, This is Dissident At The Doorstep.
It’s 2011. Hollywood A-lister Christian Bale is in China and gets punched in the face by security guards for trying to visit Chen Guangcheng, a local human rights activist under house arrest. It’s all captured by a CNN crew and broadcast across the world. A few months later Guangcheng would escape to the United States. But after you arrive in America as a hero, what happens next?
Guangcheng fights his biggest case in China – exposing the brutality of the One Child Policy. This, and a series of public and legal victories in the early 2000s, makes him into an icon in the US and an enemy of the state in China, an unlikely place for a blind man who grew up in a poor village. So how did it all begin? We talk to Guangcheng himself to find out.
Guangcheng is kidnapped by Chinese authorities and thrown in jail. By keeping him under lock and key, the government hopes to take away his power. But his imprisonment transforms him into a cause and a symbol of dissent in China and across the world. Then after years of detention, Guangcheng decides to try to make an escape. But how and who can he turn to?
Guangcheng escapes house arrest, but he’s not free yet. Without a real plan or a place to hide, he turns to the US embassy in Beijing. His moves set in motion a diplomatic maelstrom, where top officials from the two most powerful countries in the world negotiate over his fate – and their own.
Following a tense negotiation between the US and China, Guangcheng arrives in the United States. He is greeted with a hero’s welcome. He gives speeches. He wins awards. And he tries to adjust to life in New York, hosted by NYU. But quickly cracks start to emerge beneath the glamorous facade.
Almost one year after arriving in the US, the New York Post publishes a story suggesting NYU is trying to sever ties with Guangcheng. Guangcheng alleges the university is bowing to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party. Guangcheng’s hosts at NYU accuse right wing political forces of misleading him. Things get very messy. Where Guangcheng lands next sets him on a path that eventually leads to throwing his support behind Trump for reelection in 2020.
With a new position at the Catholic University of America and funding from a rightwing think tank, Guangcheng takes on a new challenge: strengthening his English. We examine why this became such a top priority for Guangcheng and his patrons, what it means to traverse borders and negotiate between languages, and how Guangcheng’s political beliefs are translated by different audiences in a country that elected Donald Trump. 
Guangcheng has put his life on the line to stand up for noble causes and principles. He has also thrown his support behind Trump and, more recently, a range of intolerant ideas. There are so many things to admire about him, but there are others that are hard to excuse. We thought with this series that we could show how all these things could be true at once. But as we got closer to the end of the story, we learned just how hard that really is.
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Gina Ruzicka

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Jan 18th
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