Urban Stability: Treating the Symptoms

Thousands who travel to Beijing to present grievances against local governments land in the capital’s official detention centers and unofficial black jails before being returned to their home provinces. Despite some signs of positive change, The Economist reports that substantial reform of this interception system is unlikely to come soon.

As a rule, the Majialou Relief and Assistance Centre offers neither relief nor assistance. An imposing complex of red seven-storey buildings, it stands next to an expanse of rubble and a few derelict houses on the south-western fringe of the capital. Few visit unless escorted by police. Few leave except in the custody of officials or their hired thugs. It is a clearing house for Beijing’s undesirables.

[…] The authorities show no sign of becoming any less zealous in rounding up protesters. Even if some of those running black jails are being punished, millions of dollars have recently been spent on upgrading and expanding the official centres that supply them with inmates. Government websites say that even before its expansion Majialou was processing an average of about 540 petitioners daily, and that as many as 7,000 people are employed by the facility. Beijing’s media say the centre is now designed to handle as many as 5,000 petitioners a day. It is not clear how often this number will be reached, but a government website said last June that petitioning visits to government offices in Beijing were “increasing dramatically”. Local governments are ill-equipped to cope by themselves, so black jails will remain in strong demand.

Petitioner interception is part of China’s broader stability maintenance machinery, which scholar Yu Jianrong recently criticized as outdated, rigid and ultimately counterproductive.

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