The Chinese Petitioning System
It is an age-old tradition in China. Once upon a time, a commoner felt that he/she was wronged but the local officials would give him no satisfaction. His/her recourse would be to go to the capital of the country and petition the Emperor or the Minister of Justice in the hope of getting justice rendered.
It is no different today. A citizen felt that he/she was wronged but the local officials would give him no satisfaction. His/her recourse would be to hop on the next train to Beijing and petition the National Petition Office or the Ministry of State or CCTV in the hope of getting justice rendered.
Epoch Times cites an internal document that gives a figure of 3.1 million petitioners in the month of September. This is not necessarily the most reliable of sources. In any case, everyone accepts that the number is large (and they can argue about how large is large in the sense of whether it was 3.1 million or 1 million or 500,000, but it is definitely much more than 100 or 1,000). The current petition system also has very peculiar characteristics (for an example, see the four chapters titled The Long Road To Petition from The Chinese Peasants Study).
From another not-always-reliable source, Secret China News, this is a diary of observations in the first few days of November:
Over and beyond the obvious injustice of interfering with or punishing people for exercising their constitutional right to make petitions, there is something terribly inefficient about the situation here. First of all, it seems wasteful that millions of people should hop on trains to travel to Beijing to solve their local problems. This may be great for the transportation industry, but it is not the best way for the petitioners to spend the little money that they have. Secondly, it is not clear if these are problems that are appropriate for a National Petition Office to consider. For example, in the United States, every time that someone has a local problem such as a zoning law variance ruling, they do not get on the next train to present their case at the U.S. Supreme Court. The National Petition Office may have neither the power nor the jurisdiction nor the local knowledge to handle all of these cases.
The following is based upon an article in Boxun. Instead of sitting out there and speculating what must be going on, someone has gone out and actually studied the petitioners. This is a good start for re-designing an effective and efficient system to replace the piece of perversity out there right now.
The petitioning system that has been in place in China for many years may be reformed soon. The main reason was that the authorities have discovered that the main goals of the petitioning were to inform the Central Government about the injustices and to apply pressure on the local authorities. Those who actually want to solve an actual problem through the Central Government accounts for only 0.2% of the cases. The payout is therefore not good at all. According to reports, China's Chairman Hu Jintao has issued an order to form a new petition system.
According to Nanfang Metropolitan Newspaper, between May and October of this year, the Chinese peasant-problem researcher Yu Jianyung and five other members of his group conducted a special study of the petitioning system. This was the largest study of petitioners conducted so far in China.
The research group conducted surveys and in-depth interviews with petitioners. They analyzed more than 20,000 petition letters coming from all over the country, they interviewed officials at the Petition Office and they entered the 'petition village' to experience life in there. After six months of research, the group concluded that the petitioning system is a historical anachronism that can no longer be used today because of multiple problems. "If this system is not thoroughly reformed, there will be severe political consequences."
The research showed that the principal cause for the waves of petitioners was due to doubts about their local judicial systems. Among the more than 600 petitioners interviewed in Beijing, 63% of them said that they had taken their cases to the local courts first. Of these, 43% said that the local courts refused to accept the case. Another 55% said that the court did not act according to the law.
In addition, the social tradition of relying on 'clean officials' is another reason to petition. The survey showed that 91% of the petitioners wanted to "let the Central Government know about the situation." 88% wanted to "apply pressure to the local government." Based upon the analysis of the research group, the whistle-blowing, applying for assistance and pressure are the principal reasons to petition. Only 0.2% of the people were solving their problems directly through the petitioning.
According to reports, the Chinese authorities are thinking about revising the 1995 National Petition Regulations. Earlier, a report from the Chinese Academy of Science titled "The Flaws Of The Petitioning System and Their Political Consequences" also got the attention of the upper echelon in China. According to information, the Chinese officials believe that the petition system has reached a stage where it must be reformed. The Chinese government will follow the instructions from Hu Jintao and set up a new petitioning system.
But what is that new petitioning system? This political system is such that we won't know until after it is announced. Whatever it is, the second-guessers will have field day criticizing it ...
(SCMP) Petition reforms a bid to ease social tensions. By Josephine Ma. November 17, 2004.
The central government will soon announce reforms to the petition system, hoping a more transparent approach will ease tensions in a society divided by rampant corruption and social injustices. Encouraged by the populist image of the nation's new leadership, petitioners have flooded into Beijing over the past year.
President Hu Jintao ordered an overhaul of the petition system about three months ago to prevent social tensions from snowballing, according to sources.
A draft amendment to the 1995 State Council Petition Regulation now under discussion is expected to be announced soon. Under the proposed amendments, more transparent procedures will be introduced, with petition offices required to issue official slips to confirm the acceptance or rejection of petitions within a specified period of time, a source said.
The State Council Petition Bureau is seeking greater powers and resources so that it can play a more active role in resolving petition cases. Officials now advise local governments to investigate the cases, but most petitioners never receive a reply.
Yu Jianrong , a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar who recently conducted a survey of petitioners, found that most were kept in the dark about their complaints. "Only two in every 1,000 receive a reply slip, and receiving a slip does not mean their problems are resolved," said Professor Yu, adding the results of his survey had been submitted to the central government.
The central government has been consulting with academics and petition bureau officials on how to reform the system since Mr Hu's order. It has also stepped up the gathering of information and intelligence on petitioners to better identify the sources of tension, sources said.
The consultations have intensified the debate over whether the system - long criticised by officials, academics and petitioners for failing to resolve cases - should be scrapped. Some scholars, including Professor Yu, believe the system should be dropped and the public allowed to seek redress through the judicial system.
But Tsinghua University's Kang Xiaoguang disagrees. "Let's look at the reality in China. Do we have a genuinely independent judiciary system? Do we have a genuinely independent National People's Congress that can punish corrupt officials?" Mr Kang asked. "It is nonsense to say that we can scrap the petition system because we have a judicial system in place to resolve these problems."
Instead, Mr Kang said petition offices should be given the authority to efficiently carry out their duties. "It should be strengthened and improved, not scrapped. If there is no petition system, local officials will act even more outrageously," he said.
After the Cultural Revolution, people who were persecuted often sought redress from petition offices, which were the only channel for the public to voice their grievances until recent years, when more individuals began turning to the judiciary.
According to official statistics, petitions remain the most popular form of seeking redress among residents of the mainland - especially among the poor and uneducated. Petition offices across the country received some 10 million cases last year. The State Council Petition Bureau - the office most frequently used by petitioners - received about 500,000 cases, while the Supreme People's Court received about 200,000. The Supreme People's Procuratorate and the National People's Congress each received more than 100,000 cases. The figures may overlap as many petitioners simultaneously file their complaints with several government offices. However, many never make it to a petition office as they are intercepted by police from their home towns waiting outside the main offices.
Mr Kang said the petition system had become a scam. "Petition officials collect information and intelligence to report to their superiors," he said. "They have no intention of helping petitioners resolve their problems. But petitioners believe they can receive help, and often sell all their belongings and borrow money to travel to Beijing. It is like cheating the people. If they do not intend to help the petitioners, at least they should tell them."
(SCMP via China Study Group) Petitioners losing faith, report warns. By Josephine Ma. November 19, 2004.
Researchers from a state think-tank have warned the central government that petitioners are losing faith in it and are resorting to drastic action to solve their woes.
A Chinese Academy of Social Sciences report cautioned that an increasing number of petitioners no longer saw the central government as a benefactor that could help them in their struggles against corrupt local bureaucrats, and some have resorted to other measures, such as violence.
The report, "Flaws of the Petition System and its Political Consequences", studies the cases of more than 600 petitioners across the country and has been submitted to the central leadership for analysis. An excerpt of the report was published in the latest issue of Phoenix Weekly, a magazine published by Phoenix TV.
The report cited a letter circulating among the petitioner community in Beijing that used such words as "corrupt officials" and "mad dogs" to criticise the central government.
In another letter, the petitioners lamented how they were mistreated by local officials when they returned from filing their petitions to Beijing. They were detained and beaten and, in some cases, sent to psychiatric hospitals.
"It is publicly known that some local governments use violence to stop petitioners from making their case to central government departments. The retaliation by some local governments against the petitioners is appalling and outrageous," the report said.
The report said the number of collective petitions, issued by groups of people, to the State Council Petition Bureau increased by 41 per cent last year, while the number of people involved increased by 44.8 per cent. Last year's largest collective petition cases involved more than 800 people.
In the first quarter of this year, the number of petition cases and petitioners to the State Council Petition Bureau were up 99.4 per cent and 94.9 per cent respectively compared to the same period last year.
The report also said that while many petitioners were hopeful they would find redress when they first arrived in Beijing, most lost hope within a week.
"Be careful! There are many people who are receiving petitions today. Don't tell them where you come from!" On the morning of November 24, I accompanied the peasant petitioner Xu Yongnian to the petition office of the Ministry of State. On the way over there, he received that urgent call.
Xu Rongnian is 62 years old, and he is a resident of Xiayang village, Hai Cang town, Xiamen City, Fujian Province. He has come to Beijing to provide report on the land sales made by the local village cadres. We met at the Social Science Instiute Agricultural Development Department where he was visiting Yu Jianrong.
Yu Jianrong is a reseacher in social conflicts and he does a lot of fieldwork during which he makes contact with peasants. Over the past two years, he has received more than 20,000 letters of complaint from peasants. Petitioning peasants would seek him out at late night at his home in Dongzhou District of Beijing. Xu came to see him on his own.
"I am unable to solve their problems. All I can do is sit and listen. As I listen to them, I wondered: why did the number of petitions increase for eleven consecutive years? What has petitioning done for the peasants? Where is the cause of conflict that led to these petitions? What are the political conseqeunces? In May of this year, I decided to conduct a definitive study that will investigate our national petition system in a systematic way." So said Yu Jianrong.
"Petitions are the fig leaf to hide the shame. It used to hide the shame in local areas, now it has risen up to the central government." The petition system has become a social focal point as well as a sensitive topic of discussion. In November, Yu Jianrong published the report <<The Flaws of the Petitioning System and its Political Consequences>> and it caused quite a stir.
Last year, we reported on Yu Jianrong's <<Let The Peasants Speak For Themselves>>. "This year, people are condemning me for wanting to eliminate petitions and therefore not permitting the peasants to speak. Anyway, the criticisms and misunderstandings were quite severe. I feel as I am a lone warrior fighting the battle."
After reading Yu Jianrong's research report, I went with Xu to the petition office and the petitioners' village to look at the process of how they petition.
The petition offices of the Ministry of State and the National People's Congress have the same entrance, and that is why they are referred to as the Two Offices.
The Two Offices are located in a dead-end street on Rongding Road in Beijing. As we approached, we could see that there were many people gathered at the street entrance, and the roadside was lined with police cars from Liaoning, Shanxi, Henan and other places for the purpose of 'receiving' the petitioners.
A number of men in dark clothes asked anyone who enters: "Where do you come from?" Or else they would stop people and demand: "Show me your ID." When Xu was asked, he refused to answer.
"I am asking you, old guy!" someone pointed at him and yelled. Xu said nothing and kept walking. Just as he seemed about to get through, someone gave him a couple of hard kicks on his backside. Xu stumbled a few steps, got steady and then he pushed hard to get through.
The hall in the Two Offices was crowded with a lot of people. The air was foul, resembling the ticket office hall at a train station. There were six windows. Each windows listd a number of provinces. The petitioners lined up in front of the window of the their provinces and they handed in the material and obtained the forms. The petitioners called this process 'registration.'
There was a woman in the 30's sitting on the ground. She was holding her head with both hands, and she was crying. Her hair was messy and her pants were ripped, showing red cotton pants inside. "She was hurt on the head out in the street because she would not say where she came from."
"Then she should have told them so as to get beaten up," I said.
"You must not tell them! If you tell, you will be arrested by the receptionists." Several petitioners warned me immediately.
Her husband was standing on the line right behind Xu. I asked them where they came from, and he said Shandong and that they were here to complain against the village officials.
I pointed to the woman on the ground: "You spend money to get here and you get abused. Why dont' you give up?"
The man showed no expression on his face. He just looked at the window and said nothing.
"How many times have you been to Beijing?" I asked.
"Seven times." He replied.
"Does that not slow down your food production?"
"This is the winter break, and we cannot work the earth. That is why we are here."
At nine o'clock, the process began. Various people kept coming up to the those in the line and asked: "Where you come from?" and "What kinds of problems are you complaining about?" The petitioners said that these receptionists are here to intercept people. In the big hall, about one-third of the people are receptionists. They hail from various provinces, most of them being young and middle-aged males and neatly dressed. Some were holding cups of water in their hands and they look quite leisurely. The petitioners are more diversified, some were wearing cotton-lined coats with a rope around the waist, even carrying their luggage on a pole; some used walking canes; some were even carried in by others.
Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the hall as a fight broke out among a group of people. When the chaos stopped, someone on a walking cane was lying on the ground with a bleeding head. A 60- or 70-year-old woman started yelling out in Shaanxi dialect: "You beat us at home! You beat us in Beijing! You don't want the people to live!" She raised a pole and charged like a wild bull, but her pole was broken immediately.
A man sidled up to Xu and asked him, "From where? From where?" Then he looked at the material in Xu's hand and he was quite happy immediately: "Oh, you are from Fujian. Don't' worry, there are no receptionists from Fujian here." These receptionists only care about petitioners from their own provinces. The first time that Xu came to Beijing to petition, he was intercepted and taken back home. "Four cadres came by airplane from Fujian. They promised me that my problem will definitely be solved. But when we got back, they took me home and then they ignored me afterwards." Xu has spent eight to nine thousand yuan of his own money for the two petition trips.
On the next line, several people surrounded a man in his 50's. They spoke in the Anhui dialect:
"Come back. Come back. We can go back and solve the problem locally."
"Aiyaaaaa! I came to Beijing because it could not be solved locally. If you could solve the problem locally, then what am I doing in Beijing?"
"Even though you have arrived here, the problem still won't be solved."
"Look, the government set up this department for the people to report the problems."
Since they could not persuade him, they began to tug at him. The man was neither angry nor upset. He just shrugged of the hands and then he said: "Folks, I am sorry!" Then he got back into the line.
"Old Miss, let us go out. Let us have a meal togehter." One receptionist was trying to persuade an old woman.
"I'm not going!" said the old woman.
"Look, it is almost eleven o'clock. You won't get your turn. Let us go and eat."
"I'm not going!" The old woman ignored him.
At a quarter to eleven o'clock, Xu reached the window. He handed in his material and ID, and the person entered the information into the computer. Then Xu received a form which he filled out. Then he said: "I will have to come back in the afternoon to get into line again to turn in the form."
After we exited the Two Offices, I accompanied Xu back to the petitioners' village. A whole group of petitioners was heading south towards Taoyen Bridge. After one station's distance, we reached a residential area where there was a building with a big sign that said Dong Zhuang. On the road, there were people who were selling directories for central government offices and news media organizations; someone had set up a table where they were writing down petition materials for people; and one house had a sign out offering to do petitions and file lawsuits.
There were two men wearing yellow rubber shoes and blue caps and they were looking at something. Xu said hello to them and asked: "How was the morning? Did you get the forms?"
"Aiyaaa! Never mind! We were intercepted by our locals and we could not get in. They even took away our ID's."
"You take a look." One of them raised his arm, and there was a deep cut. "They were so tough! They wanted to take us into the car, but we fought like hell to run away." Then he took out his petition material from the fertilizer bag on the ground.
The other laughed and said: "The receptionists cursed us that we must have maggots in our heads to want to petition!"
After we went through the residential area, we came to a grassy area next to a small forest. We encountered a white-haired old lady who was carrying four or five bags. Xu asked: "Did you come to petition?" When the old lady saw someone speaking to her, she took off her bags and sat down on the ground.
"Nobody wants to be responsible, so I have been sent around. I have been petitioning for years." She said feebly.
"Where do you live?"
"In summer, I live in the little forest. In the winter, I sleep in the waiting room at the Southern Station. Every night, they throw us out at 11 o'clock and we can't re-enter until 3 am." The cold northwesterly wind was blowing sand into our faces. She kept saying: "Who is going to help me? Somebody help me please!"
Then she opened her eyes and stared at me. She asked: "Comrade, where do you come from? Zhongnanhai?" She immediately reached into a bag and pulled out a stack of photo-copied papers.
In front of a wall about 10 meters away from the railroad track, several people were building a shed with wooden poles. I entered a shed and I saw a man smoking a cigarette. His family of three came from Jiangsu. The skin on the woman's face and hands was cracked, and her nose was constantly dripping. She said that they just spent 25 yuan to buy a piece of plastic in order to erect the little shed. "Today, we went to the National People's Congress." She sounded quite happy.
"Are you going to spend the winter here?"
"We have no choice. We lost our house. We lost our land. We are here to complain about the land grabbers who took our home away."
Then we arrived at the petitioners' village, which is a collection of crowded and chaotic brick houses down by the railroad. The trains that entrer and leave the Southern Station pass by twenty-four hours a day. When the trains go by, the houses tremble.
30-something-year old Liu Jun looks after a house. He is a petitioning peasant and he has stayed in this village for 3 years already. He said that there are more and more petitioners, especially last year and this year. "At first, there were two houses, now there are twenty to thirty. Up to 2,000 people can live here. Since this location is close to the Two Offices and the Supreme Court Petition Office and the fare is cheap at 3 yuan per night, this has become a point where many people come.
As soon as we entered the village, we were stopped by a white-haired, white-bearded old man. He handed me a piece of paper with his trembling hand and wanted me to help him dial a number. On the paper were the telephone numbers of the Beijing offices of various news organizations. He pointed to one number, and I helped him dial that number.
"Hello," he spoke with a heavy regional accent, and he wanted to ask if his material has been received. But he did not get to complete one sentence when the other side hung up the telephone. The girl who attended the telephone muttered: "He calls every day. He calls every day."
In the petitioners' village, every house consisted of one big area. In a single home with a few square meters of area can accommodate more than twenty people sleeping on the ground. Yu Deshui who came from the northeast said: "We came to petition and all we want is a verdict sheet."
He was unable to reach an agreement with the real estate developer over his house and land, but he was evicted anyway. "They look all my stuff away. I went to fight them in court, but I could not get a verdict sheet. My eyes have now gone blind."
He blinked his non-seeing eyes incessantly. "We go the petition office every month to hand in forms, and we go and wait for news every day. They only called one number in more than twenty days. I cannot charge in because that would be against the law. I came here on August 8, so how many days have I been here? I am a blind man, so what can I do?"
The house got crowded with people, who filled my hands and bag with petition material. I sat down for a while, and then several women took me to the next room and told me in a serious manner:
"You should make a report about how it is that the petition interceptors can arrest and beat up people without fear? We are afraid to go to the Two Offices now." They said that one petitioner was beaten up this morning with a rubber hose, and is still in the hospital.
"Since the central government established a petition office, they ought to let petitioners enter and hand in their material."
"I wonder if those people at the petition offices have been paid off with bribes. How is it that when we petition at one office, they send us elsewhere and we end up going all over Beijing?"
I asked them why they did not file lawsuits in courts.
"You take a look. Everybody in this room has come to complain about the courts. They won't accept your case, so you cannot file suit. If you want to appeal to a court at the next level, they will call ahead before you even arrive."
Then they brought over an old woman, who said quickly: "The relative of the secretary of our village brigade was murdered. The secretary said that he had a dream in which the relative said that my son was the murderer, so my son was arrested and he is still holed up in the Shenyang prison after 13 years. The real murderer is doing nicely outside."
"How can they issue a verdict without any evidence?" I asked her.
"If they had the evidence, my son would have shot a long time ago. Would they still be holding him in prison?" She said that the form was turned in one month ago, and she had not heard the number called for the past month. As I was listening to others, I observed that she was kneeling and praying against the wall.
"Since you can't even get through the door, you should just forget it." I advised them at the petitioners' village.
"We are petitioning legally. We came from faraway. How can we give up without even getting thorough the door?"
"The central government policies and the national code of law are great! But the base level people refuse to carry them out. Isn't this going to force the people to rebel?"
"The central government cannot hear the voices of the petitioners. We are trying our best to let the central government know."
At the petitioners' village, one female petitioner told me this colorful story:
"Last year when I came here to petition, there were some petitioners stayed in a cave underneath the bridge. One day, there came a nicely dressed man. Later on, we would find out that this was a Party Secretary."
"How do you know?" I interrupted her.
She said confidently, "I was watching on the side at the time. There was a security guard standing next to him. He asked, 'What have you come here to petition about?' Everybody showed him their petition materials. He stood there and read them for a long time before he left. About half a month later, a notice was posted on the wall of the Two Offices. It was an note from the central government leadership. There were three articles defended the rights of the petitioners ...
According to the survey that Yu Jianrong administered to 632 peasant petitioners in Beijing, 90.5% came for the purpose of "informing the central government about the problems"; 88.5% wanted to "apply pressure on the local government to get the problems resolved"; 81.2% "knew that the central government cannot solve the problems directly, but they were hoping to obtain an official directive."
I asked Liu Jun whether anyone in the petition village has ever received an official directive from the central government leadership.
"I have been here three years, and I have never seen it. It is exceptional to even get an official receipt."
He said that he came here to complain about the arbitrary fees imposed by local authorities. "It means nothing to just fill out forms. I have visited the Agricultural Department for more than 20 times. Even I was getting bored! At first, some villagers at home pooled some money together to get me to come here and petition. They gave up hope when they saw that I could not win. I too ashamed to return, and I am also afraid of retaliation."
"I am at least fortunate to have a means of earning a living and getting food. Some people spend their lives' savings for the petition and they don't even have the money to return home. So they have to pick garbage every day. Some people can't take it and lose their sanity, and they sit there cursing out loud every day. There are some who can't sleep at night as they alternate between laughing and crying."
At the petitioners' villager, the women tend to talk about personal sufferings while the men discuss the problems of petitioning. A man wearing glasses spoke to us in Sichuan dialect: "Let me tell you. All those who come up here to petition know about the law, even thought they are not necessarily experts. They believed that their affairs were based upon the facts and the law, they believe that that the country is under the rule of law and that was why they took these risks to come here to petition."
"You can get on the line daily to fill out forms. But that does not solve any problems. It is like a magician showing his skills on stage to the audience. Those who know the tricks left before without watching. Those who don't know the tricks just press forward and watch. How appalling! In the end, someone who wants to get out can't even do so?"
"Why can't they go back home?"
"The petitioning system includes a rule that defines which level of government is responsible and you will be sent back to the appropriate place. I am accusing a corrupt local official, and I just eluded him to come up here to petition, but you want to send me back to him. Is he going to let me off? He wants to kill me! How na´ve can you get? It is frightening!" He shook his head and sighed.
One person pointed to his gray-and-white hair and said: "Ten years already! I have turned from a young man with black shiny hair to an old man, and my problem is still unsolved. On the road to petition, I have seen so many people suffering from hunger, being beaten, getting arrested and thrown into jail. The road to petition is not only a road with no return, but also a road of death."
"Waaaaaaa!" The sound of crying came out from one house. One woman rushed over and took over the conversation in rapid speech. She said that her younger brother had been beaten to death, but the local prosecutors ignored the law, the crime and the justice. "I am not asking for much, just following the current law of the nation. The body should be examined by a forensic doctor and the murderer ought to be sentenced ..."
She pulled off her outer coat and took out a stack of paper from a nylon bag.
"It is all in here. Whenever I meet a leader, I give a copy."
"Can you meet a leader?"
"I petition every day and I never cease. Is there a department that I have not visited? I have been to so many departments in Beijing. I don't feel like eating during the day, I don't want to sleep at night. I even think about it in the middle of the night. I am trying to 'find the gate' everywhere."
The petitioners refer to visiting as 'finding the gate.'
"Have you found the gate?"
"I found it. The guards stopped me, but the material was accepted. The police sent me to the station, where I got only one lunch box the whole day."
Her tears came pouring out as she said, "Who wants to be go somewhere and be a nuisance? Who wants to be cold and hungry? If we did not have any complaints, who wouldn't rather be home? I only have four yuan a day to spend, three yuan for the bed space and one yuan for a bun. I pick rotten vegetables to eat every day. Look at everybody here. Which one of us is not crying every day?"
"If the problem is still not solved, then what would you do?" I asked her.
"Since I won't have an easy life even if I return, and it is suffering to remain alive, I will continue to complain as long as I am alive. If I can't get satisfaction in Beijing, I will complain all the way to the United Nations."
In Yu Jianrong's research report, the following data were obtained:
1. Have you experienced retaliation as a result of your petition?
55.4% have experience confiscation of personal properties; 53.6% experienced retaliation from underworld figures directed by others due to the petition.
2. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the petition, what will you do?
After experiencing setback, 91.2% said that they will continue to petition until they achieve their objectives; 87.3% said that they will petition to the death with the corrupt officials; 85.5% said they will publicize policies and laws in order to mobilize the public to support their rights; 53.6% said that they will do "something that will scare the cadres"; only 5.8% will accept the result without further protest.
3. In 2003, the number of petitions and petitioners increased over the previous year. At the same time, more dramatic struggles took place.
In the afternoon, I went back with Xu to join the line to in order to turn in the form. There were fewer people than in the morning. Some of the receptionists were outside the hall smoking and resting. I asked a reception cadre how many people came from his province. He said that apart from the province, one county sent five to six people. Now just you can just count the number of counties in that province.
He said: "We work hard. Our living quarters is fifteen kilometers from here. At 5 am when it is still dark, we have to get up and come over here by car. We have to be here all day. We go back after work hours. Some of us who don't perform our job as required get yelled at."
I asked why they have to 'receive' the petitioners? He replied: "Let me explain this clearly to you. When there are too many petitioners from one place, the leader has some responsibility because he/she will be criticized by the central government. That is why receptionists are sent here. It is now the end of the year and it is not a good thing for any place to have a lot of petitioners coming here."
"Our leaders sent us here. Anyway, I only have to stay for one month. I will be going home in a few days. Anyway, our job is to keep people from our province from registering at the windows." Receiving petitioners is a major project. According to reports, it costs Sichuan province about 10,000 yuan to return one single petitioner back home.
When Xu got to the windows, he turned in the form and he got a piece of paper slightly larger than a business card with the address of the reception of the National Land Resources Bureau. He had been there four times already.
When Yu Jianrong and his research group studied the petitioners' village, they did this empirical survey of petitioners who arrived on their first day.
"They carry their bags and they came all the way from thousands of miles away. They were brimming with confidence. They came to tell the central government and they wanted justice from the central government. We asked them how they felt? Most of them were emotional: 'The central government welcomes us to tell them about the corruption at the lower levels of the government! The central government will investigate the problems that I told them about.' We said, 'Good! No problem! Let us meet again in seven days.'"
The survey taken seven days later showed these results: The percentage of peasants who believed that "the central government sincerely welcomes the peasants to petition" fell down while the percentage of peasants who believed that "the central government does not want the peasants to petition" went up. Most of them believed that "there will be retaliation against those who petitioned."
"From what we learned years ago that 'the central government is our benefactor' to directly questioning the higher authorizes is an alarming qualitative change. The petition system has brought out a loss in the political authority and empathy." Yu Jianrong said so bluntly.
After analyzing more than 20,000 petition letters, Yu Jianrong discovered: more than 80% of the petitions were about land disputes. "In land disputes, the local government is the beneficiary. How can we expect it to solve the problem? How can the people retain trust? The major flaw of the petition system is that it is no longer appropriate for the market economy environment."
The petition is a way to make wrong cases right in the 1980's, and it was an effective method because a political problem should be solved by political means. But these are now problems of rights, so how can they be solved by political means? The petition process involves multiple steps with various twists, and the petition cases are handed around among various departments in a way that is incomprehensible to ordinary people. Based upon the survey of peasant petitioners, they visit an average of six departments, with as many as 18 departments. While the original problem for the petition is still unresolved, there are new issues with the petition procedure and the number of petitions is growing too, with all the problems directed at the central government.
Yu Jianrong said; "Since the various levels of government use methods of bribery and chicanery to suppress the petitions without effect, they will have to use various methods to suppress the petitioners including political persecution." Since October 2003, there is a document known as "The Petitioner's Handbook>> that was circulating within the petitioners' villagers: the local government uses the petition procedures to abuse their authority in order to suppress petitioners, including methods such as arrests, deportation, imprisonment, torture and hospitalization in mental health institutions to make sure that the problems do not get solved, that people are physically abused and their spirits broken, thus causing irreparable damage to the nation and its people."
"A small number of local authorities have persecuted petitioners and thereby caused serious political effects. One consequence is that petitioning has become an effective for social mobilization and rights protection, leading to more mass movements. About half of the peasants come to Beijing on account of government attacks and arrests of movement leaders. These people are petitioning because they wanted to decrease the political persecution through getting the attention of the higher authorities who believe that the law would not punish the masses. The other consequence is that political extremism has taken root in the fertile grounds of the petitioners."
"If we are unable to establish the trust in the law by the people, then it will be a future disaster for the country."
Yu Jianrong's viewpoints caused a big stir.
Some people did not agree because they thought that the petition system can relieve common dissatisfaction.
"I think you are wrong! It does not relief the pressure. It only increases it. Previously, they hate the local authorities. Now they hate the central government. Even the last glimmer of hope has been squashed." Yu Jianrong said.
Some scholars pounded on the desk and said; "Petitions are a traditional method of political participation in China. Enhancing petitioning will provide the right as well as the venue for the people to express themselves.
"I ask them: How many petitioners have you contacted? How many petition letters have you read? Have you ever been to the petitioners' village? How many petition problems do you think got resolved? If you have not been in touch, how would you know about the suffering of the petitioners? How do you know whence these sufferings come about? It is best that you experience the woes of the petitioners before you fart through your mouth."
In order to understand how petitioners feel, Yu Jianrong identified a problem and personally went to the petition office of a certain central government department.
The petition offices are usually located in some wayward place, and it took some effort for Yu Jianrong to find the office. "The number was called out from a tiny window, so it was like calling out for a prisoner. I entered and I was received by an old man. He took the material, he did not register it and he glanced at it and said, 'Go back! Go back to Hunan province and solve it there.' I said, 'I just came from Hunan province. I came here only because I can't get it resolved over there.' He said impatiently, 'What do you want me to do? What can I do?' I said, "Can't you call them?' He glared at me and said, 'Who is going to pay for the long-distance telephone call on your behalf?'"
"A petitioner has to endure so many slights and slurs. They are humiliated, and hatred will breed as a result. This is not letting the people speak. This is slapping them in the face! Why waste time and money if this is how they get to 'speak'? We ought to give the people a legal and effective channel of communication."
During the interview, Yu Jianrong reiterated these viewpoints: "We cannot let the people continue to hope that some just and good individual person will appear and help them achieve justice. We want them to rely on the rule of law. Rather than enhancing the petition system, it is better to enhance the justice system to let the people believe in the law and give them confidence for the justice system to solve their problems. The only proper way is to change from administrative justice to legal justice."
"The petition system should continue to exist. When the people want to express their dissatisfaction, they should be able to do so. But the government should not rank the local areas according to the number of petitions and then assign culpability. The petition department ought to inform the people: we cannot solve your problem, and there won't be anyone to issue orders on your behalf. The people should learn to expect less from the petition system. At the same time, it is important to point out a viable path: the supreme court will receive hear complaints at lower costs and this is where you ought to get their problems resolved. The court will be obliged to issue verdicts within given time limits and they will be subject to oversight and they will be compelled to investigate these cases. This will allow the justice system to become the lifeline for the people.
But some people have cursed out Yu Jianrong on account of the fact that he was stubborn in insisting on enhancing the justice system when the people were complaining about the corruption within the justice system.
"The justice system is indeed corrupt in places. But will enhancing the petition system guarantee a clean justice system? Is there a better way out of the current situation in China? It is precisely because there is corruption in the justice system that the whole society ought to keep an eye on it. If everything works according to the law, many of the problems in the petitions would not exist. If we cannot establish trust by the people in the law, it will be a disaster for the country."
Some time ago, Yu Jianrong took a field trip. He had some grim impressions. He asked many peasants these types of questions:
"If the peasant society won't give you any more loans because they are corrupt, what will you do?"
"That is impossible." That was how they all answered.
"But what would you do if it is corrupted?"
"I would take the matter to the courts."
"If the judge is corrupt, what would you do?"
"That is impossible." It was the same reply.
After pressing the peasants again, they answered: "I would ask the district representative to see the judge."
"If the district representative is also corrupt, what would you do?" Yu Jianrong pressed again.
"That is impossible." After pressing further, the answer was: "I won't elect him next time."
So Yu Jianrong came up with this thought: "We go through the established authority of the national justice system to direct these social conflicts into the proper judicial channels in order to reduce the political consequences of the petition system and its accompanying effects. In the end, we will be able to use the petition system as an oversight tool for the various representatives from the different levels of the National People's Congress."
When Yu Jianrong heard that there will be a new set of <<Petition Rules and Regulations>>, he was very worried.
"When the relevant departments announced the revision of the <<Petition Rules and Regulations>>, they certainly improved upon the previous system, but they did not offer any genuine reforms of the petition system. They set out to strengthen the petition systems according to the interests of these departments and they also imposed many prohibitive clauses that violated the Constitution. This really ought to be discussed by experts, scholars and practitioners as well as the broad masses."
"When the new <<Petition Rules and Regulations>> are adopted, they will stay put for at least several years. Just wait and see how much chagrin is built up, and how many people embark on the road of no return."
On December 3, in the reception room of the National Land Resources located in a certain street in the city of Beijing, I watched two cadres from the Fujian province take Xu home.