Chinese media blackout of dissident's escape ends with cryptic news reports

Xinhua News Agency | The Atlantic Wire | The Washington Post

Chinese citizens who rely on state media would have been surprised to see a cryptic, three-line statement Tuesday saying someone named Chen Guangcheng had "entered the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in late April and left of his own volition after staying there for six days." And then, there was a report in which the Chinese government demanded an apology from the U.S. for interfering in its affairs.

To which they may have reacted: What are they talking about?

Until Tuesday, Chinese media had not reported that Chen, a blind man who has campaigned against forced sterilizations and abortions, had escaped from house arrest and sought asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Censors had scrubbed references from the Web; the AP published a list of terms that had been blocked in a "cat-and-mouse conflict" as people tried to get around censors. The Next Web's Jamillah Knowles writes that Sina Weibo, a microblogging service like Twitter, was not blocking people from posting on the issue, but preventing others from seeing what they had written.

The disconnect continues, with The New York Times citing U.S. officials who say the Chinese government has pledged to protect Chen, who had claimed his family had been attacked, and relocate him to another part of China. Xinhua's version? It reported that the Chinese government had "urged the United States to stop misleading the public."

The Washington Post's Keith Richburg writes that his newspaper's previous reporting on Chen's activism earned Richburg a short phone call in which Chen confirmed that he had left the embassy and was headed to a hospital for treatment. That 2005 story about his activism describes Chen's work collecting the stories of rural residents:

Chen, 34, a slender man wearing dark sunglasses, held out a digital voice recorder and listened intently. Blind since birth, he couldn't see the tears of the women forced to terminate pregnancies seven or eight months along, or the blank stares of the men who said they submitted to vasectomies to save family members from torture. But he could hear the pain and anger in their voices and said he was determined to do something about it.

Related: How China is expanding its global media presence (CJR) | Los Angeles Times correspondent captures image of Chen

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  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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