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Artist seeks change in China

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Weiming Chen has a message for the world: Pay attention to what’s going on in China.

Born in Huangzhou, a city of 21 million people on the eastern coast of China, Chen is now a permanent resident of the United States living in Los Angeles. He’s also a sculptor who uses his art to make a statement about human rights.

For the past week, Chen has been touring the West Coast with a 10-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture he calls “The Statue of Democracy,” a replica of a statue created by pro-democracy student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Clearly intended to evoke comparisons to the Statue of Liberty, the figure of a woman with Chinese features holds a torch aloft with one hand while clutching a book of laws to her breast with the other.

On Tuesday, Chen and his entourage of 14 supporters stopped off in Corvallis with the sculpture riding in the back of a pickup. Hitched to the truck was a small travel trailer plastered with photos of what Chen says are human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government.

The images catalog a litany of outrages: Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of students gunned down in Tiananmen Square 28 years ago this week. Tibetan protesters and Falun Gong practitioners beaten by police. Forced abortions in the name of the “one child” policy. Civil rights attorneys arrested or “disappeared.”

“This is happening in China, but many American people do not know this,” Chen said.

“Even many Chinese don’t know. They don’t want to see it.”

Chen calls his rolling protest the “Chinese State Terrorism Show,” and he hopes it will force people in this country to acknowledge and confront the Chinese government’s actions.

“I want American political people like (President Donald) Trump to look with your eyes, see what’s happening in China,” he said.

When Chen starts talking about Trump’s fence-mending visit with Chinese President Xi Jingping in April, when the American leader declared relations between the two countries “outstanding,” Chen becomes irate.

“I am very angry,” he shouted. “This is (something for) a great leader to do?”

Last year Chen spent about a month traveling to the East Coast with his politically charged art exhibition, stopping at 20 cities and college campuses along the way. This year’s much shorter tour started May 31 in Las Vegas and is scheduled to wrap up there again on Thursday after stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Corvallis was added to the itinerary so Chen could see the Tibet House, a defunct restaurant at Southwest Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue, and visit with its owner, Taiwanese-American businessman David Lin.

In 2012 Lin commissioned a large mural across the front of the building that depicts Chinese violence against the Tibetan people and urges independence for Taiwan. The painting sparked a diplomatic incident when Chinese officials pressured the mayor of Corvallis to have it removed and Oregon’s congressional delegation reacted with outrage.

Lin sees a crucial distinction between his efforts on behalf of Taiwanese independence and the work Chen and his supporters are doing to promote human rights in China. Nevertheless, he said he was happy to host Chen’s group for lunch and hopes Americans will heed their warnings about China’s human rights abuses.

“That’s a big issue,” Lin said. “It will be an even bigger issue when China becomes more powerful. What they are doing is important.”

Eventually, Chen said, he hopes to display “The Statue of Democracy” in a sculpture park in Los Angeles, along with other pieces of art that advance the cause of human rights.

“I already buy the land,” he said. “This is my dream, the only thing I can do.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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