Civil Rights Activist
Chen Guangcheng, known to many as “the barefoot lawyer,” was born in 1971 in a remote village in Shandong, China. Despite falling ill and becoming permanently blind as an infant, he educated himself, eventually becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree.
A self-taught lawyer, he initially took on civil rights and disability cases. His investigation of the violent enforcement of the so-called One Child Policy in his village led to a long period of harassment, house arrests, black jails, and a four-year prison sentence. After nearly two years of brutal detention in his own home, he escaped his village. High-level diplomatic negotiations secured his travel to the U.S., where he became a fellow at NYU Law School in 2012.
Chen has received numerous awards, including the Time Magazine 100 Most Influential List (2006), The Ramon Magsaysay Award (2007), The Lantos Human Rights Prize (2012), the UK Parliament’s Westminster Award (2013), and the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Courage Award (2014). He has established a not-for-profit foundation to further human rights in China, and serves as Visiting Fellow at the Catholic University of America, Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the Witherspoon Institute, and Senior Distinguished Advisor to the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.