LINYI, China -- A crowd of disheveled villagers was waiting when Chen Guangcheng stepped out of the car. More women than men among them, a mix of desperation and hope on their faces, they ushered him along a dirt path and into a nearby house. Then, one after another, they told him about the city's campaign against "unplanned births."
Since March, the farmers said, local authorities had been raiding the homes of families with two children and demanding at least one parent be sterilized. Women pregnant with a third child were forced to have abortions. And if people tried to hide, the officials jailed their relatives and neighbors, beating them and holding them hostage until the fugitives turned themselves in.
Chen, 34, a slender man wearing dark sunglasses, held out a digital voice recorder and listened intently. Blind since birth, he couldn't see the tears of the women forced to terminate pregnancies seven or eight months along, or the blank stares of the men who said they submitted to vasectomies to save family members from torture. But he could hear the pain and anger in their voices and said he was determined to do something about it.
For weeks, Chen has been collecting testimony about the population-control abuses in this city of 10 million, located about 400 miles southeast of Beijing, beginning in his own village in the rural suburbs, then traveling from one community to the next. Now he is preparing an unlikely challenge to the crackdown: a class-action lawsuit.
"What these officials are doing is completely illegal," Chen said. "They've committed widespread violations of citizens' basic rights, and they should be held responsible."
It might appear a quixotic crusade -- a blind peasant with limited legal training taking on the Communist Party's one-child policy, which has long been considered a pillar of the nation's economic development strategy and off-limits to public debate. But the Linyi case marks a legal milestone in challenging the coercive measures used for decades to limit population growth in China.
UPDATE: Chen was just "seized" by the provincial authorities he was targeting while he was in Beijing to press his case.