Chen Guangcheng says Chinese pressure forced him out of NYU

The prominent Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who triggered a diplomatic incident when he escaped house arrest and fled to the US embassy in Beijing last year, says he has been asked to leave New York University following “great, unrelenting pressure” from Chinese authorities.

The university, which has hosted the blind, self-taught lawyer on a fellowship since May last year, has denied the allegations, saying his tenure was intended to last only a year. The New York Post, which reported the allegations on Thursday, linked Chen’s impending departure to NYU’s efforts to open a campus in Shanghai.


Chen, 41, spent 18 months confined to his home in rural Shandong province by local authorities for his advocacy work against forced sterilisations and abortions. He escaped last spring and sought refuge in the US embassy in Beijing, triggering a high-profile diplomatic incident.

Chen has been told he has until the end of June to vacate the Greenwich Village apartment where he has been living with his family since he arrived in the US. The terms of his departure are still unclear.

On Sunday, Chen said in a statement that he was “grateful to NYU” for its help in transitioning to the US. But he also implied that the university terminated his fellowship under pressure from Chinese authorities, who “want to make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don’t have time for human rights advocacy”.

“As early as last August and September, the Chinese communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us,” he wrote.

“The work of the Chinese communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back. Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.”

A university spokesman, John Beckman, denied the allegations in a statement on Sunday, emphasising that Chen’s fellowship was intended to last only a year. He said the university never would have sheltered Chen if it was susceptible to Chinese government pressure. Chinese authorities had approved the Shanghai campus after the blind lawyer’s arrival, he said.

“We are very discouraged to learn of Mr Chen’s statement, which contains a number of speculations about the role of the Chinese government in NYU’s decision-making that are both false and contradicted by the well-established facts,” Reuters reported his statement as saying.

“Mr Chen’s fellowship at NYU and its conclusion have had nothing to do with the Chinese government. All fellowships come to an end,” he said.

Chen is said to be in discussions with two other institutions to continue his advocacy and research. One is Fordham Law School, the other has not yet been disclosed.

Jerome Cohen, a leading expert on Chinese law at NYU who helped Chen negotiate the terms of his fellowship, said in an email last week he had never heard from anyone, “including Chinese diplomats”, that NYU was under Chinese government pressure to terminate Chen’s fellowship.

“No political refugee, even Albert Einstein, has received better treatment by an American academic institution than that received by Chen from NYU,” he said, according to the Washington Post.