Thousands of ordinary people with complaints against the government converged on the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s graft-busting body on Tuesday to mark the 93rd anniversary of the party’s founding with a call for its help.
Petitioners have continued to flock to Beijing on key political dates in spite of a May 1 ban on petitioning to a higher authority, calling on the party as a last resort, often after years of pursuing grievances to no avail.
“Today we went to the gates of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) at 8:00 a.m,” a petitioner from the northeastern province of Jilin surnamed Zhang told RFA on Tuesday.
“When I got there, they had already taken four busloads away. I was on the fifth,” said Zhang, who was taken to the Jiujingzhuang unofficial detention center on the outskirts of Beijing to be “processed” and sent home under escort.
“There were around 150-160 people on the bus,” she said. “When I got out of Jiujingzhuang, I saw that nine busloads of people had been detained outside the CCDI. The buses were packed with people, so it was probably more than 1,000 people in all.”
A second petitioner at the scene, Wang Jing, said more than 2,000 had been detained by noon local time on Tuesday, however.
“By noon, I had counted 13 busloads of people being taken away from there, all of them packed with petitioners. I reckon they detained 2,000 petitioners this morning alone,” Wang said.
“I think the majority of petitioners from around the country who are currently in Beijing were gathered outside the CCDI,” she added.
Zhang said many more had likely been prevented from arriving at the scene by police or interceptors sent by governments in their hometowns to muzzle complaints about them.
“Most petitioners are complaining about their local government, so the only reason they come to Beijing is that they can’t break through an iron wall of vested interests back home,” she said.
She said many petitioners saw a direct appeal to the party’s investigatory arm as a last resort.
“We are a group that has no one on our side, and no way to help ourselves,” she said. “The local governments have stepped up their oppressive policies towards us, and some people no longer dare to come to Beijing.”
“We came to Beijing today on the party’s anniversary, because we still have faith in the party,” Zhang said.
‘A real mother’
Meanwhile, a Shanghai-based petitioner surnamed Gu called on the Communist Party to live up to its own propaganda.
“Today, on July 1, don’t they tell us that they are our mother? They should live up to that image and act like a real mother when we come to them with our grievances and injustices,” Gu said.
“Petitioners from around the country are flocking here to our mother, and we want her to be a real mother, not just in name only.”
A second petitioner surnamed Zhang said he had traveled to President Xi’s family home in Yuquan Hill Resort, as well as the Central Party School in Beijing on Tuesday.
His group of 30-40 petitioners had also visited the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and planned to continue to Tiananmen Square, at the heart of the capital, he said.
“Our local governments have grabbed our land and forcibly evicted us. We are farmers from Chongqing.”
“That’s right, [we have been petitioning a long time with no result],” Zhang said.
The scenes were in stark contrast to those in Hong Kong, which traditionally marks the anniversary of its 1997 handover to China with large but peaceful street protests, and where policing is subject to close scrutiny by the territory’s media.
However, a group of activists in Shenzhen, just across the internal border from Hong Kong, gathered outside government offices there in a brief show of support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy march, local sources said.
“Just over a dozen people went to protest [outside the government offices] at about 10:45 a.m.,” a local resident surnamed Guo told RFA.
“A Hong Kong media organization shot some video and there were photos posted online.”
According to Hong Kong’s East website, the group was soon surrounded by police, who snatched their banners away and told them not to copy their compatriots across the border.
Meanwhile, some activists crossed the border to join in the march in Hong Kong, including the wife of Beijing-based rights lawyer Teng Biao, Wang Yanfang.
“[Activists] have been under extreme political pressure across the whole country this year, and as their loved ones, we feel really afraid,” Wang told Hong Kong media.
“I came here to call on the authorities to release all of the rights activists and lawyers currently in detention [in China],” she said.
Detention in centers like Jiujingzhuang and Majialou—officially known as ‘reception centers’—follows no procedure under China’s current judicial system, and is an interim measure used by the authorities to briefly incarcerate those who complain before sending them home under escort.
But many petitioners still converge on major centers of government during high-level political meetings and significant dates in the calendar, in the hope of focusing public attention on their plight.
Nearly 20,000 grievances are filed daily to complaints offices across China in person, according to official figures released last November, mostly by middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income.
Those who do pursue complaints against the government—often for forced evictions, loss of farmland, accidents, or death and mistreatment in custody—say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails” or “legal study centers,” beaten, and harassed by the authorities.