China Elections and Governance website has two articles about the petitioning system, in response to the protests over Professor Sun Dongdong’s controversial comments. From the first, titled “‘Crazy’ Petitioners and a Broken System“:
It is not hard to see then why the comment made by Professor Sun Dongdong resulted in such a backlash. While China has been moving towards better accountability in its government and promoting its petitioning system, the lack of control over local officials has been a hindrance to the process. Their use of “black prisons” for petitioners is illegal and stifles the process to a great degree. Lack of investigation or recognition into these institutions has plagued the petitioning system.
The comments by Sun are just another reason for unrest over the issue. While he has issued a formal apology, stating that he meant 99% of protesters he had actually met, and that mental illness is a lot broader than most people realize, the protesters are still not pleased. He also stated that he hoped the petitioners would be able to go through legal channels to solve their issues. Some students at Peking University have called for his resignation, and a group of petitioners in Shanghai are filing a defamation suit. It is sure that the unrest may be directed at Sun because he is an easier target than the officials who are targeting them. Although the petition system may not be done away with as it has been a part of Chinese society for so long, the continual unrest and attention to the problems of the corruption that go along with it may lead to modifications for a more efficient and just system.
See also an article by Yu Jianrong, a professor and director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Rural Development Research Institute’s Social Issues Research Center, called “The ‘petitioners’ dilemma’ and the way out,” translated by China Elections and Governance.