Kafka in Beijing

At Foreign Policy, John Garnaut and Sanghee Liu examine the case of Long Meiyi, the daughter of a Guizhou official, and her unsuccessful years-long campaign for justice after an alleged rape.

In July 2011, a Hong Kong newsmagazine published the story of a Chinese vice mayor desperate enough to petition the Chinese central government for justice after his daughter said she was raped by a mining magnate in January 2009. The daughter had initially pursued redress through official channels, responding to the alleged assault with the confidence that came from being raised in a family of senior officials in a country where political power and connections frequently trump all else. But when her rape complaint vanished into the vortex of the city’s opaque and highly politicized legal system, the family found that they had been outplayed.

Unsurprisingly, the story caused a sensation — but it did nothing to change the outcome. And so in September of last year, I received a call from a woman who introduced herself as “Long Meiyi, the daughter of the ‘petitioning mayor.'” In a sign of increasing helplessness, she had decided to reach out to a foreign journalist to publicize her case. Over a series of conversations across many months, the now 22-year-old Long told me the story of how the system stopped working to her advantage.

[…] Long’s ordeal is extraordinary and deeply ironic, in large part because her stepfather was responsible for Liupanshui’s “stability preservation” apparatus. Tian was one of the top officials overseeing the city’s police and courts — as well as the notorious “Letters and Complaints” system, which ostensibly provides an outlet for disgruntled citizens by allowing them to petition the central government but also collects intelligence against them. In China, where there is no independent judicial system, citizens appeal to Beijing in the hope that even if local officials are corrupt, the central government might deliver justice. It’s a slim hope. Most petitioners are physically prevented from reaching the designated offices and have to settle for displaying their documents at prominent locations, in symbolic acts of protest and desperation. Tian’s role was to quiet complaints against the powerful and the state — until the person complaining was his daughter, and he found that the stability-preservation machine that he helped run was more powerful than he was.

The case was previously the subject of a 2011 Caixin op-ed by lawyer Ding Jinkun (via CDT—original now deleted), who concluded:

Local business tycoons are in cahoots with the local authorities to a stupefying degree. The moneyed class is in fact so ingratiated with local government that the wealthy have become the de factor political rulers. What has emerged is a despotism where citizens are sacrificed on the altar of the powerful, where legal rulings are constantly harming the people they are meant to help. Citizens looking to protect their rights will simply never win versus officials or versus the rich. Their only choice is to perish together, pitiable and powerless.