But whether China, which up until that point had not even acknowledged Chen's escape (or, for that matter, that he had been abused under house arrest) would even consider allowing him to leave was unclear. In China, saving face is critical. For the government to continue to play along, when Chen had so radically changed the chess board, it would require a rare willingness to be seen as diplomatically flexible.
But, just hours before Secretary Clinton was scheduled to leave Beijing a second deal was reached.
The Chinese announced that Chen would be permitted to obtain a student visa that would allow him to go abroad.
The U.S. promptly announced that he and his family would be given the appropriate visas without delay and confirmed that New York University had extended him an invitation to be a visiting scholar.
The Chen family would need to be issued Chinese passports to travel, a process that would take time. Secretary Clinton finally left China without them.
In large degree the ball was now in the Chinese government's court.
As they waited, Chen continued to speak to the press. He voiced his outrage that his nephew, Chen Kegui, had been arrested and charged with attempted homicide.
Chen says he was acting in self-defense after local authorities attacked his house following Chen's escape. Chen said he had been in regular contact with US.. officials, and he praised their efforts to help him. But he also expressed frustration that the process was taking so long.
Recently, the Texas-based activist Bob Fu of ChinaAid has demonstrated that it is possible to protest from afar and make a different sort of impact. Whether Chen can do the same will be seen in New York, where he has said he will continue to study human rights law.
Chen Guangcheng has left the country that sought to silence him. He also left his mother, older brother, nephew and others; friends and family he may never see again. In some ways it was his choice; in others it wasn't .
What is clear is this: today, his new life begins.