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Why Chinese activist now seeks US asylum: His family

Chen Guangcheng's sudden change, he says, is concern about the threats to his wife, two children, and mother. Will Beijing let Chen Guangcheng leave?

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Blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, in wheel chair, meets his wife Yuan Weijing, right, daughter Chen Kesi, in blue shirt at second right, and son Chen Kerui, left, at a hospital in Beijing, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke stands at Chen's right.

(AP Photo/U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, HO)

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 Chen Guangcheng's sudden change of heart to leave China after insisting for days he wanted to stay has caught his American supporters off guard. But his reason was simple: His family's safety came first.

Reliant on relatives to be his eyes on the world, Chen and his family share a bond strengthened by years of enforced isolation and a shared fight against vengeful local officials. His son was taken from him two years ago. His daughter has been harassed, his wife beaten, his mother followed by guards as she tilled their fields.

Though the blind activist initially agreed to let China relocate him and his family to the northeastern coastal city of Tianjin, he now says that won't be far enough away from their persecutors in eastern Shandong province to guarantee their safety.

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Chen is begging the U.S. to help him go abroad with his wife and two children. He would like his widowed mother to join them.

It's a stunning reversal from a hard-won compromise between China and the United States that saw Chen leave the U.S. Embassy in Beijing where he had taken shelter after a daring nighttime escape from 20 months of abusive house arrest in his rural town.

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