Jessica and I did not make it to Macau during our stay at the Universities Service Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. By the time that we actually do make it there, it seems likely that it will be just another Vegas, if this story is at all accurate.
Last Friday a middle-aged couple from Jiangsu province came to our office seeking justice. This is something that happens on a fairly regular basis. A few times a month, sometimes as often as several times in a given week, Chinese people with grievances against the courts, against the police, against their local governments will call the bureau to ask us for help. Often they’re people who have spent years petitioning various official agencies for redress of their grievances.
Petitioning, as an institution, has existed in China in one form or another for centuries. The idea is that citizens (in the old days, subjects) who suffer harm in their hometowns can appeal to higher levels of of the bureacracy to right the wrongs. In a country where courts are still weak and rarely independent of other arms of government, the petition system is there to function like a kind of court of last resort, and a check on official power. Virtually every official organ in China has a “letter and visits” office at which the aggrieved can lodge complaints. The biggest of these offices are in Beijing and huge numbers of Chinese flock to the capital, with sheaves of documents in hand, hoping for intervention from on high. Last year, according to the State Council 30 million people lodged complaints at Letters and Visits offices throughout the country. …
Petitions are one of the data sources for instability that I am collecting at the provincial level and below.