Wen Chen speaks on the Chinese government’s disregard for human rights


Sandhya Bhandari

Wen Chen (left) gives an overview of human rights in China at Washburn University. The presentation was very eye-opening.

*Content Warning: The following story contains material such as sexual abuse, assault, abortion and human trafficking that may be harmful or traumatizing to some audiences.


Wen Chen, a staff scientist at the California Institute of Technology, gave an effective presentation on Feb. 23 in the Mabee Library about the situation of human rights in China. Sharon Sullivan, chair of the theatre department, and eight to nine students attended the presentation. Chen shared various things happening in China such as sexual abuse and assaults, human trafficking, forced abortion and sterilization, condition of the human rights lawyers, atrocities and prosecutions made by the Chinese government.

Chen came to the U.S. in 1994 for graduate school and earned a doctorate in biology from the California Institute of Technology in 2000. Since 2012, she has given over 200 presentations about Chinese culture, history and human rights. She is a member of Amnesty International and coordinates all activities related to China while working as a human rights activist.

According to a survey in 2018 by the Chinesefeminism organization, sexual harassment experienced by females was 75% and sexual harassment experienced by male was 35.3%. The survey also addressed that 90% of the offenders were men. Approximately 292 million migrant workers from the rural areas weren’t allowed to use any public resource in cities. This led to about 60 million “left-behind” children in the countryside who were an easy target of sexual abuse and human trafficking.

In 2017, RYB Education preschool was involved in a scandal of children being molested, pierced by needles and given unidentified pills. When reported, the news was censored. The authority claimed that security camera recordings were lost due to hardware failure, thus denying sexual abuse allegations. The parents were arrested and had to publicly apologize for the allegations.

Chen also talked about the top tennis player Peng Shuai, who was sexually assaulted by a senior party official. Chen highlighted that the Chinese government censored the case and removed reports from social media. Peng was forced to leave tennis.

Chen also described the network of bridal trafficking for which the local government provided marriage and birth permits. The brides were claimed mentally ill, hospitalized and anyone visiting them was arrested. There was a recent incident seen on social media of Li Ying who went missing in 1996 at the age of 12. Ying was found chained in 2022 and had already given birth to eight children over the years she was missing.

The Chinese government prosecuted Falun Gong meditation practitioners, of which 72% were women because the government feared popularity. People’s independent thinking might lead to a cultural revolution. For this prosecution to be successful the government started the process of brainwashing and detention centers, mental hospitals, labor camps and prison terms. In these detention centers, people were sexually abused and tortured. To keep people in they would have them in a painful situation like highly freezing and extremely high temperatures, extending their prison times, burning or scorching with the hot iron and inventing new devices to torture them.

During the presentation many people who were present felt that the context was shocking and interesting.

“I was shocked to know this because I have a different mindset like I am from the U.S., so I don’t necessarily really know what goes on differently than here. So, that’s really strange for me but I’d like to get to know more about that because it was really eye-opening,” said Alaysah Allen, a sophomore nursing major.

In China, there was an enforcement of the one-child policy between 1918 to 2015. Due to unpermitted pregnancies about 400 million births were abandoned among which majority were girl babies. People were forced to have abortions or sterilization and if they didn’t agree then they were made to pay a huge fine. After that the two-child policy was formulated from 2015 to 2021 and three-child limits afterward. The main reason behind the change in the one-child policy was the gender imbalance and lack of a young workforce.

Tiffany Mack, a sophomore mathematics major, thought that the presentation was very phenomenal, moving and eye-opening not only to learn the depths but the breadths of what’s taking place.

“I knew very little, just the tip of the iceberg as to what was going on and I found it heart-wrenching. It’s extremely important to raise awareness over this stuff, make you want to speak up, help and support them because I think if we all work together, we can make a difference,” said Mack.

Chen also revealed how the government covered up these allegations either by disappearing the victims, censoring the posts, arresting the lawyers and activists or forcing or punishing victims to apologize for the rumor they have spread. The local officials were involved in the crime and the allowance provided by the government for the practice of human trafficking to solve the ratio imbalance problem. Many lawyers who raised their voices against prosecution, the one-child policy, Falun Gong, and fought for human rights were arrested, tortured, and made to disappear.

There were various questions, concerns, and shocking reactions about why the Chinese government was violating human rights and what steps can be taken to protect vulnerable populations.


Edited by: Rakesh Swarnakar, LeSha’ Davis and Simran Shrestha