[Editor’s Note: These remarks were delivered during the inaugural China Forum upon the presentation of the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to Chen Guangcheng in Washington, D.C., on November 5, 2015.]
It is such an honor to receive the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. To follow in the footsteps of past honorees, Pope John Paul the second, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and so many more—people of great vision and courage—is truly humbling. I hope that in time I may have the strength to achieve a small measure of what these brave people have done.
My profound thanks go to Mr. Marion Smith and his colleagues here at Victims of Communism for this award. Your award is a public validation of the necessity of human rights, and gives us all courage to redouble our efforts to end tyranny.
Thanks are due to so many here in the United States and elsewhere. Without your attention, concern, and outspokenness, I would likely still be suffering persecution at the hands of the Communist Party in China. With all of your help, including that of the State Department, the Witherspoon Institute, The Lantos Foundation, Catholic University, and all the people who tried to visit me in my hometown, Dongshigu, including my good friend Christian Bale, I now enjoy freedom and security in America. Now, I can speak openly about the human rights situation in China without risk of reprisal.
I personally experienced China’s total disregard for human rights and the rule of law. As I describe in my memoir, The Barefoot Lawyer, I spent many years in prison and under house arrest for trying to help ordinary citizens achieve justice under the law and to stop the violent policies of the Communist Party. My family suffered by my side.
But my persecution is not unique. Many other peaceful warriors have been cruelly persecuted too. People like Gao Zhisheng, Xu Zhiyong, Liu Ping, Li Heping, and Gao Yu. Hundreds of us have been detained, imprisoned, tortured—some even murdered—simply for daring to demand our basic human rights.
The Communist Party in China has absolute power. And the Communist Party is absolutely corrupt. Make no mistake about this. There is nothing to check their power, except the opinions of other countries brave enough to call them out on their record. The so-called law in China does not apply to them. They are above the law. They ARE the law.
Will Western democracies be courageous enough to confront China? As citizens living in freedom, we need to ensure that our leaders are demanding that China adhere to basic universal values that are the fundamental right of all people.
Imperfect as Western democracies can be, we know even American presidents are subject to the rule of law, can be removed from office when they forget it. In a civilized country no one is above the law. An independent judiciary makes sure that no one’s power is absolute. The laws that we pass by representative governments give freedom and justice a fighting chance.
For many years in China, people have lived with no freedom of the press, no academic freedom, no freedom of expression. People believed the Party propaganda that the Communist Party worked in their best interests, and for the interests of the country. But since the rise of the Internet, there has been a change: people can now communicate much more easily, and can share information like never before.
Despite the so-called Great Fire Wall, people are compelled to the truth, and citizens continue to find ingenious ways to get around Party censorship. With every passing day, people’s eyes are opened to the cruelty and selfishness of their leaders. The lies cannot be concealed, and the evils of this corrupt regime are being exposed for all to see.
And one day, quite soon I believe, the victims of the communist regime in my beloved China will simply say, “No. No More. Enough.” And if the Chinese people can put an end to the tyranny under which they have been living, they will open the nation to the sweetest fruits of humanity’s endeavors: freedom and democracy.
The Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom encourages us all to focus our efforts, to use our hearts, minds, and hands to reach out to those who live under tyranny. Only when we have abolished tyranny everywhere will we all be truly free.