It has all the makings of a spellbinding screenplay: A blind Chinese dissident outwits a communist regime's thugs to escape house arrest and seek sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Chen Guangcheng scaled walls, crossed fields, slept in a pig pen, injured a foot, and -- after 17 hours -- connected with an activist he'd never met who drove him toward the capital with the help of an underground network. All this under the eye of China's domestic security system, which has a bigger annual budget than the nation's military.
Riveting as news accounts of Chen's great escape on April 22 may be, what led up to it is fit only for a horror film.
Since 2010, Chen had been subjected to house arrest and beatings and four years in prison before that for exposing inhumane enforcement of China's One-Child Policy. A self-trained legal advocate, Chen was defending rural farmers and the disabled when he uncovered the government's widespread forced sterilization and forced abortion.
Established in 1978, China's One-Child Policy has prevented 400 million births, authorities claim. Coupled with a cultural preference for male offspring, the policy has led to massive sex-selection abortion -- or "gendercide" as many call it, citing almost 40 million missing girls.
In China, the reported sex ratio of births is 100 girls for every 118 boys; the natural norm is 100 girls for every 105 boys. In some regions, an estimated 130 boys are born for every 100 girls.
Such extreme imbalance can occur only through extreme manipulation. The regime enforces the One-Child Policy through birth permits (meaning some pregnancies are illegal), cervical exams, fines, forced sterilization and forced abortion. The policy is inhumane and incompatible with freedom.
And that's exactly what Chen sought to expose. His 2005 investigation reported 130,000 forced abortions and sterilizations that year in the city of Linyi alone. Building a case to sue local officials, Chen interviewed women about their harrowing experiences; summaries of 14 of his interviews are posted on the website of Women's Rights Without Frontiers.
Zhongxia Fang's story began with a third pregnancy after giving birth to two daughters, despite an IUD implanted by Family Planning officials. While she sought to evade authorities, they systematically harassed 22 of her relatives -- including her pregnant sister, a relative over 70 and several children -- with fines, detainment and beatings.
When the authorities threatened to beat her aunt to death, Zhongxia turned herself in. She was seven months' pregnant. Officials injected her with an oxytocic drug and her baby was aborted the next day. Then they performed a ligation to sterilize Zhongxia. Only then was her aunt freed.
Ping Liu testified before Congress last September about undergoing five forced abortions. The factory at which she worked, staffed mainly by women of childbearing age, strictly imposed the One-Child Policy and used collective punishment to enforce it. Fellow workers reported two of her pregnancies.
To prove they weren't pregnant, the factory's female employees had to go to the "birth planning doctor" once a month. Only then would they get paid for their work.
"In China, a woman's body is not her own. It belongs to the state," said Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, testifying alongside Ping Liu. "For the Chinese Communist Party to act as 'womb police' and crush the life inside her is a heinous crime against humanity." Such brutal treatment of women shatters lives. China has the world's highest female suicide rate: 500 per day. Chinese women of childbearing age who take their own lives account for 55 percent of the entire world's female suicides, says Valerie Hudson, co-author of "Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population." Chen became a folk hero in China for fighting such ruthlessness.
The thrill of Chen's great escape and the ongoing suspense about his situation (will he be free to study at New York University as reportedly agreed?) shouldn't overshadow the cause for which he has risked so much.
U.S. policy-makers have long expressed concern over China's security and economic challenges to global stability. They ought to be equally concerned about the chilling long-term consequences of gross abuse of human dignity and the destruction of civil society. It's time for China to end the barbarism of its One-Child Policy.
And when Hollywood makes a movie about Chen movie, it must expose the horror behind the headlines.
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in Newsday.