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Also circulating is a video Mr. Chen recorded as a direct address to Premier Wen Jiabao, condemning the treatment of him and his family and accusing local Communist Party officials by name. Activists sent the video to the overseas Chinese news site, which posted part of it on YouTube, which is blocked in China but can be accessed with a proxy server.

Mr. Chen’s whereabouts have yet to be confirmed, though ChinaAid, a Texas-based activist group that has been promoting his case, said Saturday that Mr. Chen was “under U.S. protection” and that Beijing and Washington were discussing the situation.

Mr. Hu, the Beijing activist, said he was told Mr. Chen had made it to “a 100 percent safe place,” which he understood to mean the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Mr. Chen’s escape comes as the Chinese leadership is already reeling, trying to heal divisions over the ousting of a powerful politician, Bo Xilai, and complete a once-a-decade transition to a new generation of leaders. As in Mr. Chen’s case, the U.S. is implicated: Mr. Bo’s ouster was precipitated by the sudden flight of an aide to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu.

While the aide, Wang Lijun, gave himself up to Chinese authorities — and though Republicans have criticized President Obama for letting a valuable intelligence asset go — the incident and Mr. Chen’s escape reaffirm longheld suspicions by Beijing that the U.S. wants to undermine the communist government. Late last week, the White House, in a reversal, said it was considering selling new warplanes to Taiwan, the democratic island China claims as a breakaway territory.

It’s not known what Mr. Chen’s intentions are. Some say he wants to stay in China, but negotiating any exit from U.S. custody is likely to be difficult for the Obama administration. The government is unlikely to make concessions, fearing they might embolden other activists.

Complicating any negotiations over Mr. Chen is the treatment of his family. While Mr. Chen escaped a week ago from Dongshigu village and made it 370 miles northwest to Beijing, his wife and 6-year-old daughter were left behind. The whereabouts of several other relatives, including Mr. Chen’s mother and brother, are unknown.

Seven lawyers have volunteered to defend Mr. Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, who allegedly confronted and stabbed local officials who stormed his house in the middle of the night on Thursday in apparent retribution for the activist’s escape.

One of the volunteer lawyers, Liu Weiguo, said he spoke with Chen Kegui briefly Sunday afternoon via mobile phone. Chen Kegui told the lawyer he was by a highway about 75 miles from his home village, penniless and hoping to find a local police station where he could turn himself in.

“Since he escaped, they haven’t punished his persecutors in Shandong,” said Mrs. Zeng, the Beijing activist. “Instead it’s the activists and supporters who have been detained or disappeared. It’s very clear that Chen’s supporters and family members are very vulnerable right now.”