Human Dignity Lecture, Spring 2015. “Interpreting Reform: Human Dignity & Human Rights in Contemporary China.”

By Brett Robinson

Chinese civil rights activist to speak at Notre Dame on human dignity

The Office of Human Dignity & Life Initiatives and the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame will host Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng for a lecture entitled, “Interpreting Reform: Human Dignity & Human Rights in Contemporary China.”  The event is part of the Human Dignity lecture series and will take place on April 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the McKenna Hall Auditorium.

Chen, a self-trained lawyer who has been blind since an early age, fled Chinese house arrest in a daring escape in 2012. Under cover of night, Chen scaled the wall surrounding his house and relied on a network of Chinese activists to usher him to safety at the American Embassy in Beijing. Chen’s escape energized activists in China and the former political prisoner now campaigns vigorously against human rights violations in his home country.

“It is important to hear the voices of those who have suffered for defending human dignity and the civil freedoms that ensure human dignity is respected. Otherwise, our consciences can become hostage to a syndrome of small accommodations to vested interests that, over time, can add up to collaboration,” said John Cavadini, Director of the Institute for Church Life. “A Catholic university with a pro-life stance and a stake in freedom of expression and freedom of religion has a special responsibility in ensuring such voices as Chen's are heard.”

A series of recent human rights reforms in China belie a troubling pattern of abuses by the Chinese government, including the jailing and torture of religious figures and political dissidents. Forced seizure of land and the unlawful arrest and torture of civilians continues unchecked in many regions of the country. Chen will talk about the implications of the new policies as they relate to the unrealized promise of a more humane China.

 “The Office of Human Dignity & Life Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame is committed to a Catholic vision of human dignity and the inviolability of all human life. In many parts of the world, however, the freedoms and rights that such a vision entails are routinely and brutally violated,” said Jessica Keating, Program Director of the Office of Human Dignity & Life Initiatives at Notre Dame.

The Chinese government’s strict control of the media prevents many cases of abuse and injustice from becoming publicly known. Chen’s house arrest in 2010 gained the attention of global media outlets and the coverage aided in his eventual escape.

In 2007, Chen was named one of the Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of individuals lauded for their moral example. Chen was a visiting scholar at New York University before being named a Distinguished Visiting Fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America.

Along with the Institute for Church Life and the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives, the event is co-sponsored by the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and the Center for Social Concerns.

Brett Robinson, Institute for Church Life Communication Director
(574) 631-6109,