"This is compensated greatly by the fact that Beijing is more worried than ever about the domestic human rights movement, about the fact that its citizenry is increasingly framing their demands through legal rights and human rights language," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"The Party sees the stakes as getting higher and higher, and therefore we are seeing an increase in unlawful tactics and means of suppression of dissent."
Chen and his family say they have borne the brunt of such tactics, and relatives left behind continue to face official retribution after the activist's escape.
His oldest brother, Chen Guangfu, hasn't seen his son for half a year. Authorities arrested the younger Chen for attempted murder in late April and told his family that no one except police officers was allowed to see him during the investigation.
The Chens have maintained that the activist's nephew injured a few officials with a kitchen knife in self-defense, when they broke into his house in the middle of the night and attacked his family after his uncle ran away.
An official with the local police department, who declined to give his name, told CNN that the younger Chen's case is now "in the judicial process" and would not comment further. Repeated phone calls to the local prosecutor's office went unanswered.
"My family is ruined, but I don't regret helping Guangcheng -- and we have done nothing illegal," Chen Guangfu said. "He helped those in need with his knowledge and skill -- and at least we can answer to our conscience."
With Vice President Xi Jinping expected to be appointed the new Communist Party chief Thursday, Pearl says she feels more optimistic about the country's future direction while Hu emphasizes he has lost all hope on the current regime. Chen, citing Chinese history, views the leadership change as almost irrelevant when it comes to the inevitable fall of tyranny and move toward a constitutional democracy.
While activists seem divided on whether a new generation of leaders will improve China's human rights record, Chen Guangcheng's elderly mother says she has a more basic worry: Will her youngest son ever be allowed back home to live freely and safely?