China: The Heroine Behind Chen Guangcheng's Escape Arrested

Blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng who had been under house arrest for 20 months since his release from prison on September 8, 2010 has finally escaped from Dongshigu Village in Shandong province. On the other hand, He Peirong (“Pearl”) who helped Chen escape to Beijing has been swept away by police from her home in Nanjing on Friday April 27, 2012.

Since February, 2011 Pearl He has been trying to visit Chen Guangcheng under house arrest while campaigning for his release. A few months ago I interviewed her briefly about her activist's path for a research project on Gender and Citizenship conducted by the organisation IT for Change. Below is a summary of the online interview:

Who is He Peirong?

He Peirong's profile picture at Twitter

Pearl lives in Nanjing city, Jiangsu province. She had been an English teacher until 2008 when the Wenchuan Earthquake took place. She left her job and went to Sichuan as a volunteer for earthquake relief work. A few months later, the Sichuan government started cracking down on citizen initiated disaster relief groups and a citizen investigation of bean-dreg school building constructions. A number of activists including Tan Zuoren and Huang Qi were arrested. Then Pearl decided to join an activist group to provide assistance to political prisoners and their families. Her first campaign consisted of fundraising via Twitter. Through the campaign, she was connected to a wider network of like-minded people and later decided to campaign for Chen Guangcheng.

In September 2011, upon learning that Chen's 6-year-old daughter could not attend school due to illegal house arrest, she urged other netizens to visit Chen's family in Dongshigu Village. She tried entering the village twice herself but was beaten up by local thugs. After several failed attempts, she changed her strategy to online campaigns by raising public and international awareness of Chen's condition. [Many netizens have spontaneously joined hand to campaign for Chen's freedom], one of the most well known action is the “Free Guangcheng: Dark Glasses Portrait” by Hexie Farm:

Pearl never gave up on the idea of getting Chen physically out of the village. Now Guangcheng is free and has spoken out to the world on the illegal prosecution committed by local government in Linyi county, Shandong province.

However, Pearl has been missing since April 27 shortly after the news of Guangcheng's escape spread through the Internet. Her last tweet [zh] is about the safety of Guangcheng's brother:


@pearlher: Any friends who are nearby Shandong? Please drive along 205 highway and look for Kegui [Chen Guangcheng's brother]. Give assistance to him, please help out. I can't leave my place anymore or else I would have driven there myself.

Campaigning for Pearl's release

Upon the confirmation of Pearl's arrest by China Aid, Chinese tweets appeared campaigning for her release. Poon Siu To, a radio host in Hong Kong urged [zh]:

今天起,請大家記住這位南京女俠,網名「珍珠」的何培蓉!她犧牲為了拯救陳光誠,赴湯蹈火。壯哉!高貴的勇士! 還我珍珠!還我美麗的珍珠!(拜托,轉發和吶喊吧!)

From today onward, please remember this Nanjing heroine, her name is “Pearl”, He Peirong. She sacrificed herself to save Chen Guangcheng. She is such a courageous and noble fighter. Return Pearl to us, return our beautiful Pearl! (Please spread this).

Zeng Jinyan, whose husband Hu Jia has met with Chen Guangcheng upon his escape also pleaded [zh]:


Demand: 1. The release of He Peirong @pearlher; 2. The release of Chen Guangcheng's wife, daughter, mother, brother's family and villagers; 3. Make sure that Chen Guangcheng's family can be free in the future; 4. Stop harassing and prosecuting rights defenders and their family members; 5. Officials and thugs who have participated in illegal prosecution should be put on trial.

The significance of Chen's prison break

Prominent video activist, Prof Ai Xiaoming sums up [zh] in his blog the significance of Chen and his supporters’ prison break action:


Breaking through the door of hell and taking Chen Guangcheng away is a prison break thriller. The prison house is not only a physical place but in people's heart. How can evil manifest itself so openly? The problem is not only in the system but in people's silence. The Free Chen Guangcheng's campaign has broken such silence. The successful escape implies the power of such action. The courage comes from our practice of freedom; the wisdom, collective effort and planning are the fruit of a series of process that overcomes our fear. Chen's freedom is a result of Pearl and Yushan's courage and persistence. The citizens who visited Dongshigu village and were beaten up by local thugs are in the frontline of the fight against fear and terror. For those who have made their pledge on Twitter or exhibited their sun-glasses images were once the silent majority, but eventually they have joined together in support of each others to defend goodness. Violent oppression cannot extend its power towards people's spirit. Although justice has always been the target for crackdowns, its has endless power. Like Pearl has said on Google Plus: The most significant act is for people to speak out.


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