Like many of China's blind, Chen Guangcheng studied acupressure to be a healer. Instead he ended up in jail. Self-taught in law, Chen has become one of China's most prominent legal crusaders - what the Chinese call a "barefoot lawyer" - who has made waves in Beijing by helping poor farmers in the cornfields of eastern China. 2

Like many of China’s blind, Chen Guangcheng studied acupressure to be a healer. Instead he ended up in jail. Self-taught in law, Chen has become one of China’s most prominent legal crusaders – what the Chinese call a “barefoot lawyer” – who has made waves in Beijing by helping poor farmers in the cornfields of eastern China.

Since March he has been in jail awaiting trial.

“Chen is not afraid of sacrificing himself to serve ordinary people,” said Liu Changhai, a farmer from Chen’s home county of Linyi who ran afoul of the local government for resisting sterilization after his first child was born. Liu, 37, was beaten at his home by family planning officials until he consented to the operation – a case Chen championed and that ultimately helped land him in jail.

Chen’s passage from disabled student to civil rights campaigner underscores the contradictions under a government that has unleashed free-market reforms and claims to be moving toward a law-based system, yet often allows those very laws to be trampled, leaving the fight for rights to lawyers, scholars and, increasingly, ordinary Chinese.

These campaigners in recent years have tackled cases of corruption, confiscation of property and religious persecution, bringing them into conflict with local authorities and at times the central government in Beijing.

Chen, a square-jawed 34-year-old father of two, was due to stand trial Thursday, but prosecutors were granted a delay to gather more evidence, his lawyer, Li Jingsong said.

He is accused of illegal assembly and intent to damage public property – charges his supporters say were trumped up in revenge for uncovering cases of forced abortions and sterilizations by family planning officials.

Blinded by a fever in infancy, Chen attended the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but got interested in law, his friends said.

After college he returned to the farmhouse where he grew up in Dongshigu Village, a region famous for its peanuts and honeysuckle flowers. He began fighting for disabled farmers, forcing the government to obey the law and waive their tax payments.

“This is one of the most impressive human beings you will find,” Jerome Cohen, an American lawyer and expert on the Chinese legal system, has said.

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