China’s Silenced Citizens

Many Chinese with grievances often have nowhere to turn aside from the Offices of Letters and Visits, which are found at every government level. Their experiences are at the center of this piece from the Financial Times:

Many petitioners bring relatively minor business disputes that local officials are unable or unwilling to resolve. At the other end of the spectrum are accusations of murder, torture and rape inflicted at the hands of government and police officials. Many profess their devotion to the leaders of the Communist party and say that if only they can get their story heard, the benevolent modern-day emperor will punish their oppressors.

“I trust in the party and the central government to bring justice to us ordinary people, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” says Zhao Guang­jun, 43, a villager from Hebei province who is there to complain about local officials whom he claims took peasant farmers’ land and divided it among themselves, then hired gangsters to beat up the farmers when they complained.

But very few will find any kind of resolution at the petition offices and most will have their lives made much worse. As many as 12.7m petitions were filed in 2005, according to latest government figures, but “some official surveys show that less than 1 per cent of petitioners achieve satisfaction”, says Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University and expert in Chinese law. “It increases the grievance and frustration because people go from pillar to post without a remedy; everybody tries to transfer responsibility, if they are a government official, from their agency to another.”

A supplement to this article includes three videos: “The Desperate Discover a System in Crisis,” “Parents Struggle for Justice in Beijing,” and “Personal Stories from Across China.”

This 2007 France24 video briefly covers the role of the Internet in Chinese petitioning:

March 7, 2009 1:45 PM
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