WASHINGTON -- News that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and his family might be allowed to leave China for a university fellowship in the U.S. brought relief not only to Chen, but also to dissidents around the world.
It also may have put a smidgeon of crow in the mouths of critics who perhaps protested too much too soon.
Then again, maybe not. The outcry over how the State Department initially handled Chen's dramatic escape from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing ultimately may have helped persuade Chinese officials to concede to amped-up pressures from the U.S. Whatever the case, the Obama administration and, in particular, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem to have prevailed under difficult circumstances.
If all goes according to plan, they not only may have saved Chen's life but also will have invigorated the spirits and convictions of others around the world who still look to the U.S. as a beacon of freedom and protector of human rights. This result, assuming no further glitches, was not always apparent, least of all to Chen and his family.
Until his harrowing escape several days ago, Chen's plight was relatively unknown to most Americans, though a handful of people have been working for years to free this man known simply as a "Chinese dissident."
The words Chinese dissident don't resonate much in the U.S., where dissidence is a national pastime and China, despite its role as our banker, is -- over there. Furthermore, protesters are just so much landscape in this country -- an azalea here, a protester there. We consider political activism to be not just a birthright but a necessary prod to elected officialdom.
Chen's dissidence was both dangerous and of the highest moral order. Despite years in prison and regular beatings, he persisted in documenting forced abortion under China's one-child policy. Although blind, Chen was unable to avert his gaze from the abomination of women being forced to submit to abortions even in the latest term of their pregnancies. Sometimes only the blind can see.
And sometimes nations prefer not to look. While in China last year, Vice President Joe Biden rather famously said he understood China's one-child policy and wouldn't "second-guess" it.
Our reasoning, to the extent any share Biden's view, deserves closer scrutiny. Perhaps we feel it is none of our business. And, of course, China has a population problem, doesn't it? As Biden said, "You're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."
A dozen inhumane "solutions" suggest themselves unbidden. I once asked a pro-life activist what China's remedy should be and she said: "I don't know, but I know we can do better than tearing babies from their mother's wombs."
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group