Chinese Dissident Chen Guangcheng's Daring Escape

Blind dissident felt way silently over a wall, slipped past nearly 100 guards.

ByAbc News Beijing Bureau
April 30, 2012, 7:11 AM

April 30, 2012— -- Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's escape from house arrest could have been a scene from a Hollywood movie.

After months of vicious beatings by Chinese guards, Chen and his wife began studying the movement of the guards who were constantly watching them. For days, Chen pretended to be too sick to get out of bed, then deep into a moonless night he made his move.

Chen, a human rights lawyer who came to international prominence for exposing the forced abortions and sterilizations of rural women under China's One Child Policy, felt his way silently over a wall and slipped past nearly 100 guards that were stationed around his home, around the courtyard walls and at every nearby road and bridge.

Bob Fu, the founder of ChinaAid, which aided Chen in his getaway, called the escape an "extraordinary adventure."

"He walked for hours from his own home in the middle of the night. He was wounded, wet, covered in mud. He swam across a river," Fu told ABC News.

Fu says it was darkness that gave Chen, who has been blind since childhood, his advantage.

"[He] has an amazing sense of hearing," he said. "I think he could really literally feel the direction of the river and the main road and, of course, he was raised in that town and village."

Chen was picked up by supporters and driven to Beijing on April 23. Several friends hid him in different locations until his last host was able to reach out to the U.S. embassy in Beijing on April 27, Fu said.

Blind Dissident Chen Guangcheng's Escape Brings Diplomatic Mess

Chen's escape has created a diplomatic mess just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to China.

Top officials from the U.S. and China are locked in intense meetings regarding the fate of Chen, according to a U.S. based advocacy group.

The State Department, officials at the U.S. embassy and the Chinese government continue to decline to comment about the human rights activist who is believed to be with U.S. officials in China. Fu, who has been in close contact with the underground network that facilitated Chen's escape, said he expects the Chinese government to release its first public acknowledgement of the incident in the coming days.

Over the weekend, Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific Asian affairs, arrived in Beijing. He had been scheduled to arrive later in the week to attend the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) meetings May 3 and 4. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who as recently as last November called on China to release Chen and embrace human rights reform, is expected to arrive Wednesday morning to attend this yearly meeting .

In the past, the SED meetings have been largely pre-scripted affairs. It now appears that both sides are searching for a solution before they come together. If Chen's future is not agreed upon soon, it could compromise goals on both sides for the talks. Among the topics up for discussion are nuclear proliferation in North Korea and decreasing oil imports from Iran, issues on which the U.S. has been seeking increased Chinese support.

There has been speculation that Chen's escape was timed to Secretary Clinton's visit and that China will accuse the U.S. of helping him. Fu rejected that idea.

"I think the U.S. was caught off guard. There was a disconnect between Washington and Beijing," he said, "They had to scramble."

Blind Dissident Chen Guangcheng's Escape Has US Political Implications

In debating what to do with a compelling international human rights figure who represents the kind of repression in China the U.S. has long criticized, the Obama administration must consider political repercussions in an election year.

China has replaced Iraq as the focal point for foreign affairs this season. Republican candidate Mitt Romney is accusing President Obama of being "soft" on China. If the U.S. accepts Chen and his family, it risks further upsetting an already sensitive dynamic with the Chinese government; hand him over to Bejing authorities and the White House gives Romney arsenal for attack that could also be seen as backpedaling on commitment to an issue the Democrats have long championed.

It is further complicated by the belief that Chen does not want to leave China; he has said what he wants is to live freely in his own country with his family. Whether that is possible now is unclear. Some of his supporters are discarding it as any kind of realistic option.

"The worst thing I could see would be for the U.S. to let up," said Fu. "China could make a trick and say he is a free man, we guarantee it, and the U.S. could see it as Chen is a Chinese citizen and let him go. That would be a nightmare I don't want to see."

As details emerged over the weekend and Monday on Chen's escape there was little news on the fate of the key figures in China who had helped him. He Peirong, the young woman who posted on Weibo, China's Twitter, that she had driven Chen to Beijing and handed him over to a "relay" person to take him to a safe house, is thought to be in police custody.

Pearl, as she is known, has become somewhat of an online sensation for her selflessness. Late Monday, online reports from Hong Kong named Guo Yushan, the head of the Chinese reform-related think tank Transition Institute, as another key figure possibly being monitored or in police custody but that could not be confirmed. Hu Jia, a friend and fellow activist, was reportedly detained by police for 24 hours and then released.

Fu, who continues to monitor events from the U.S., says that Chen is "nothing but a miracle." Chen Guangcheng may need at least that if he is to be granted the future he says he wants.

ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Ben Forer and Olivia Katrandjian contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events