NYU students excited at potential Chen Guangcheng fellowship
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng still appears far from formally joining the NYU School of Law, but the prospect of the human-rights hero’s arrival in Greenwich Village has elated students.
"A lot of students have been putting the news on their Facebook pages; they’re really excited," said NYU law student Emily Nagle.
The Morningside Heights resident added that NYU Law Professor and Asia specialist Jerome Cohen, 81, who helped broker the face-saving deal, is ”a real rock star.”
Chen, 40, a blind lawyer who spent four years in prison for exposing a regional campaign of forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations, has been the leading man in a nail-biting international drama after escaping from house arrest April 22, on the eve of high-stakes economic talks in Beijing between the U.S. and China.
The two global giants appeared to be at a standoff over the activist, with China refusing to allow Chen to leave the country as a political refugee. But on Friday, the School of Law invited Chen to come to NYU as a temporary “visiting scholar” — with his wife and two children — and China was reportedly receptive to the deal.
Still, Chen does not yet have his travel documents.
Pei Ju Wang, a Taiwanese lawyer obtaining her master’s in law at NYU, said that having Chen on campus could provide valuable insight as to how nations and individuals could support human-rights activists in China without imperiling their safety.
“Many of the Chinese students here are really reluctant to become criminal lawyers in their country because it’s dangerous,” noted Wang, who lives in NYU housing.
More than anything, said Nagle, students are interested in hearing Chen’s remarkably heroic story.
But John Lee, 32, a third-year NYU law student who lives in the Financial District, said even if Chen does come to campus, he will be necessarily “cagey” in discussing his cinema-worthy saga.
“I’d be surprised” if China allows Chen to come to NYU, said Lee. Even if China grants Chen a visa, the country will always have “a finger on him,” Lee said, because Chen will know that friends, associates and extended family members who remain in China might suffer should he speak too critically of his homeland.