A Change in the Chinese Petitioning System

This post is based upon an article published in Nanfang Daily.  On May 1, 2005, a new set of State Ministry rules went into effect concerning the petitioning system.  This had been one of the most insane systems ever; it was inefficient, ineffective and cruel.  This very long previous post The Chinese Petitioning System collects much of that insanity.

Here is the brief summary of the pre-existing situation.

The insanity of the petitioning system was the impetus for the changes.  Although the new rules became effective on May 1, this day was the start of the Labor Day holiday week, and the true test would come on May 8 when the government offices open for business.  The Nanfang Daily reporter accompanied a 70-year-old petitioner An Jiazhong on his rounds in Beijing.

On the morning of May 1, An Jiazhong woke up in the famous petitioners' village near the southern train station in Beijing.  Ordinarily, there are thousands of petitioners who pay 3 RMB per night for accommodations.  But a couple of days ago, the local governments had sent workers to the petitioners' village to persuade the petitioners to return home to work out their problems under the new rules.  Many petitioners went home as a result.  So on this day, An Jiazhong woke up in a mostly empty room.

Although An Jiazhong knew that the state offices would not be open, he still went down to the People's Supreme Court office just in case something was happening.  At 630am, it was still quite dark outside but there were many petitioners like him over there already.  The reporter spoke to fifty of the petitioners and found out that 42 of them were aware of the new petitioning rules.  Some of them were quite optimistic, because "the national government has imposed some rules on the local governments, such as responding in writing within 60 days to all the particulars."  The reporter also spoke to a 75-year-old petitioner who took up the sideline business of selling pamphlets about the laws in China.  According to this vendor, the top seller is the new petition rules, followed by the administrative complaints and land ownership laws.

May 8 would be the first day under the new petition rules.  What will happen?  Actually, by 4pm on that day, for the first time in many years, the two petition offices were surprisingly deserted.  In the past, there would have thousands of petitioners in long queues out on the streets.  For one thing, the names of the State Ministry Petition Office and the National People's Congress Petition Office are now posted on the outside of the hutong (street).  For many years in the past, this was a nameless location like so many unpublicized government offices in Beijing, even though the thousands of petitioners outside made it famous.

On this first day, the petitioners had two major discoveries.

First, all the government workers were kind and patient, and they made many user-friendly improvements.

Second, all the "petition interceptors" have vanished!

An Jiazhong was in fact stunned.  "No petition interceptors?"  He looked around, and he was ecstatic.  He was a little bit worried as he moved forward.  Some of the people up ahead looked like village cadres.  He walked past them, but they did not stop him.  "Strange that they did not stop me?" he thought.  All of a sudden, this hutong felt a lot wider than usual, and he could walk down without fear.

In the long run, everything has to do whether the new rules will deliver results.  There will be a trial period, but the central government has bought some time at least by trying something different and certainly eliminating the worst abuses.

The Nanfang Daily analysis is as follows:

It is clear that the responsibility now lies with the local governments to resolve the problems.  First of all, there is the time limit -- they must respond to the particulars of petitions within 60 days instead of stalling for an eternity.  Secondly, the new rules will include the performance of the local government in their overall job evaluation, and the local government will be held legally accountable for any violation of  the petitioners' legal rights as well as any administrative misconduct.

The Nanfang Daily article ends with this brief report.  On March 14, 2005, 9-month-pregnant Huang Changchun set out from the petitioners' village at 6am on a public bus.  On the way, she began to have birth cramps.  An ambulance was called, and she delivered a baby on the ambulance just as it was passing by Tiananmen Square.  Twenty-four hours later, Huang went back to the petitioners' village together with her baby and the petition documents.  The people in the petitioners' village named the baby Tien Yi (Heaven's Will) in honor of Tienanmen Square (the Gate of Heavenly Peace).  Like An Jiazhong, Huang will not give up on petitioning, and she is more optimistic on having her problem resolved under the new rules.

Now this blogger cannot tell you whether things will get better or not.  He does realize that nothing is ever what it seems, and there are unintended effects from even the most earnest efforts.  But he will say that the most ludicrous aspect of the system (namely, the petition interceptors whose mission was to reduce the number of registered petitioners) has been eliminated, or so it seems.  He will wait and see what actually happens.