A Tale of Two Villages: Are Chen Guangcheng's Neighbors Freer Now?

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As authorities in China destroy evidence of their alleged mistreatment of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng and his family, his brother says that life has improved for his fellow villagers now that the armed guards and checkpoints are gone.

Two opposing narratives emerged Friday about the disappearance of guards and security posts from the village of Dongshigu, from which Chen escaped house arrest in late April, making his way to the U.S. consulate in Beijing, and eventually to New York. The village had been on lockdown, with authorities reportedly hassling Chen's family and former neighbors.

On Friday, The Associated Press reported that "guard posts came down and the hired toughs who manned them melted away, restoring an air of freedom this week to a village that authorities turned into a prison." The rest of the report follows in that hopeful vein, including a quote from Chen's brother, Chen Guangfu (pictured), who said "I feel liberated."

But Reuters' Sui-Lee Wee had a different take, portraying the disappearance of guards and checkpoints as a coverup and citing Chen Gaungfu's allegation that "local officials had destroyed evidence of abuses in his village ahead of a possible investigation there over an issue which has embarrassed Beijing and threatened relations with Washington."

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The two very different reports speak to the onion-like layers of understanding news in China: One person's happy ending is another's state-sanctioned conspiracy. But in the end, the effect in Dongshigu is that things are getting back to normal after two years of heavy security. Even Reuters' darkly foreboding report includes this from Chen Gaungfu: "Now, he said, people can freely move in and out of the village after years that the two men's families were barred from leaving."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.