It’s a story that makes you want to stand up and cheer. A blind civil-rights dissident escapes from heavily guarded house arrest in a remote Chinese village and somehow makes it 370 miles to Beijing, where he seeks refuge at the American embassy. Or so we think. The techno savvy Chinese government has banned all references to Ghen Guangcheng – including any Internet references to ”Shawshank Redemption,” whose recent showing on state-run TV Ghen’s sympathasizers view as an underground tribute to his escape.
Our government is being almost as tight-lipped, refusing to disclose Ghen’s whereabouts or other details – although it’s clear we know where he is and are enabling him to be there. This is hardly the first time that our professed commitment to human rights has come in conflict with our desire to improve relations with a strategically important nation.
Witness our tap dances with Saudi Arabia and Russia – and historically with Pinochet’s Chile, apartheid South Africa, the now-toppled Arab regimes. The issue is posed as one between “realpolitik” and idealism, but it’s amazing how often the realists end up on the wrong side of history.
In the past we have talked of finding leaders we can “work with.” But might we not be better off in the long run – and more at peace with ourselves – if we looked harder for dissidents we can support – those with staying power, personal humility, true courage and a dedication to peace?
Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama are rare in history, but because they embody the aspirations of their people, they endure.