Online Petition Site Sees Shaky Debut

China’s official online petition platform had a rough first day on Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, which notes that the web site “triggered mockery across China’s social media platforms” when it crashed on the morning of its debut:

“Sorry! Weibo brought too many people to the page,” said Li Kaifu, CEO of Innovation Works, who has more than 46 million followers on the site.

Many Weibo users said they expected the crash due to the number of potential petitioners. Some interpreted the government’s use of a server that couldn’t handle the first-day traffic as a sign of insincerity.

Petitioning, or shangfang, is the modern form of an ancient system in which people who faced injustice at home came to the capital to voice their grievances directly to the emperor.The State Bureau for Letters and Calls acts as a communication channel for petitioners and the central government. While the bureau has long been criticized for a lack of effectiveness, local officials often go out of their way to keep petitioners from reaching it so as to avoid being criticized by Beijing. Hired thugs often threaten protesters or even haul them away to unofficial prisons known as black jails. [Source]

The article adds that some netizens called the system a “poor imitation” of the White House’s online service, which recently inspired several viral petitions from China. One post on the “We the People” portal, for example, requested that the United States deport the daughter of a powerful former government official who allegedly poisoned a classmate at Tsinghua University in 1994. The creators of those petitions faced the same censorship and intimidation tactics suffered by those who log complaints in person at the State Bureau for Letters and Calls.

A Xinhua report made no mention of Monday’s technical difficulties. The new portal “faced a mix of comments from petitioners,” according to the Global Times:

Some questioned if the petitioners’ privacy can be protected by this real-name platform, as most cases, including tip-offs, will end up being transferred back to the local government.

A petitioner surnamed Xiao from Guangdong Province is pessimistic about its effectiveness. “I have tried to petition to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, however, it has always been the local government that handled the case in the end.”

Some are still hopeful. “Chances are that our petitions would be pushed back to the local government and all our efforts will end in vain. But I believe that society is advancing forward and we will see the justice,” Xu Haijun, a petitioner from Shandong Province, told the Global Times. [Source]