China's Petition Village
Here are a couple of previous posts on the national petitioning system in China:
Why am I interested in this topic? Perhaps it is the absurdist aspect of how the petition system operates. When petition offices are set up at the State Council, the National People's Congress, the Supreme Court and CCTV to receive petitioners, one assumes that these offices are open for the business of handling petitions. Why then do local governments send police officers to set up right outside these petition offices, arrest petitioners from their local areas and send them back home. Wouldn't it save everybody a lot of trouble by not having these petition offices? And it can't even be a matter of wanting to appear open and kind with these petition offices, because what has actually happened is absurd and cruel.
Anyway, Mirror Books has published a collection of essays on China's Petition Village. This is the shantytown by the railroad station in Beijing where poor petitioners can find lodging for 3 to 5 yuan per night while they do their rounds.
The first chapter by the editor Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) is quite hilarious. He recalls that on February 17, 2004, he was in Beijing and wined-and-dined with some friends at the expense of the New York Times. At the time, he had read about the Petition Village on the Internet and wanted to see it. So when he came to visit Beijing this time, he wanted to check it out with a couple of photographer friends. It turned out that the New York Times reporter was thoroughly familiar with the place, and he even drew a detailed roadmap for Liao. Unfortunately, the New York Times reporter could not serve as their guide, because he was a westerner.
So Liao and his photographer friends began their journey by going to the petition office and checking it out. They got off the bus and then they started asking some people standing there about the petition village. The people just smiled and did not answer. Instead, the people asked, "Are you from the outside? Do you need a hotel to stay?" One woman even said that her bread van was there to transport people to hotels. The photographer asked, "How much per night?" The answers ranged from 20 yuan to 50 yuan. The photographer said, "I am looking for the cheapest hotel for petitioners. The kind that costs 3 to 5 yuan per night." The woman said, "At least 15 yuan. We can't make any money if we go lower."
So they went into the petition office and looked around. Then they came back out again where they encountered the people standing outside again. The woman asked, "Are you reporters?"
"No," the photographer replied. "How do you know that we are not petitioners?"
The people laughed. One of them said, "You look pale and well-fed."
"Does being pale and well-fed mean he cannot make a petition?" Liao challenged.
"Of course, he can petition," the woman said. "But the real petitioners have that sad and sorrowful look. You can tell with just a glance at them."
I don't look pale or well-fed, and I will probably never get that sad and sorrowful look. So that is the other reason why this topic interests me -- to get a glimpse across the unbridgeable gap.