Beech_nothing_left

Beech_nothing_left - WARNINGCONCERNING COPYRIGHT...

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Unformatted text preview: WARNINGCONCERNING COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproduction of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnis: a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other tan private study, scholarship, or research. If electronic transmission of reserve material is used for purposes in excess of what constitutes “fair use”, that user may be liable for copyright infringement. %E Asia Magazine: Nothing Left To Lose -- March 1, 2004 / Vol. http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/printout/O,13675,50104030... I Thaiisands iii new jab listings daily. 9 careerhuilderm TIME asra March 1 2004 / Vol. 163 No. 8 Nothing Left To Lose Tens of thousands of Chinese flock to Beijing seeking redress for myriad injustices—from unpaid wages to unpunished crimes to official corruption. Most of these pilgrimages end in frustration or despair BY HANNAH BEECH | BEIJING When Li Guanqing set off on the first of his 150 pilgrimages to Beijing, he possessed a quiet conviction that justice would be done. It was 1980, and Li's father had been stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances in the family's eastern home province of Shandong. Suspecting that local village chiefs whom Li's father had criticized were to blame, and unable to get any help from police, Li, then 21, gathered his meager life savings and trekked from Shandong to the capital. There, he began endlessly ferrying documents from one government agency to another, hoping each official chop from this bureau or that office might result in an inquiry into his father's death. But no one would listen—and instead of finding justice, Li found himself on a Homeric journey through the communist bureaucracy. Over the following 24 years, his obsessive persistence was rewarded with several stints in detention centers, where he claims guards whipped him with his own belt and choked him with his shoelaces. Last December, when Li tried to enter a National People's Congress (NPC) petition office with his precious stack of documents, an official grabbed the papers and lit them on fire—to Li, a more devastating blow than any physical torture. "Without my papers, there is no way I can get justice," says Li, his 45-year-old face etched with the wrinkles of a far older man. Now he is worried that irate local officials who are tired of him complaining about them in Beijing might try to harm him. So he's staying in the capital, determined to keep pushing for an inquiry. "I know it's no use, but what else can I do?" Li is hardly alone in his hopeless quest. At any given time, an estimated 50,000 aggrieved citizens from all over the mainland can be found in a collection of slums surrounding the ill-named Happiness 1 of4 2/24/2004 8:48 AM TIME Asia Magazine: Nothing Left To Lose -- March 1, 2004 / Vol. 20f4 Road that fronts one of the biggest of Beijing's 30 or so petition offices. This petitioners' village, with its desperate residents pushing plastic bags filled with documents at any interested passersby, is an embarrassment for the central government. So, each year, as the NPC plans its annual meeting in the capital to discuss major legislative and social issues, the police raze the petitioners' shantytown—only to see it sprout anew like some stubborn weed. This year, the demolition began in late January in preparation for the March 5 commencement of the NPC. Li barely escaped the security officials who hustled petitioners into vans to send them back to their hometowns. He lost his blanket and clothes in the raid, forcing him to keep warm in the dismally cold days that followed by building a tiny fire out of scraps of cardboard. Most of the petitioners‘ makeshift homes—built of plastic foam, plastic and tarp—were destroyed. Still, says Li, "[The petitioners] will be back. This is their only goal in life." The complaints of China's petitioners are a stark reminder of the lingering social ills confronting the nation as President Hu J intao wraps up his first year in office. The most common grievances involve corrupt local officials, land seized by authorities and developers to fuel China's property boom, unpaid wages from cash-strapped state-owned enterprises, and industrial accidents at unregulated private factories. Some cases are doubtless spurious, but most aren‘t. Even Zhou Zhanshun, head of the State Letters and Visits Bureau, admitted to the state—run Xinhua News Agency in January that 80% of the complaints are reasonable. The number of petitioners heading to the capital has increased dramatically over the past few years. Though President Hu and Premier Wen J iabao have made mingling with common folk a signature of their new administration—from shaking hands with aids patients to chatting with coal miners—the common touch hasn't trickled down to China's provincial leaders, who are widely viewed as aloof and corrupt. Without any recourse on the local level, the mainland's disenfranchised see little choice but to head to the capital. Their increasingly vocal calls for justice show that despite China's economic expansion, many citizens are simmering with discontent. NPC petition offices, one of many venues in Beijing for accepting citizen complaints, say they received about 20,000 petitions last year, up 30% from 2002. The success rate of China's petitioners is infinitesimal. Bin, a Chinese photographer who has spent much of the past four years documenting their plight, says he has heard of only one complainant who left Beijing satisfied. "These people have experienced some of the worst things in China, yet at the same time they still believe their complaints will be addressed,“ says Bin, who declined to use his full name becausehe deals with a topic that is sensitive to authorities. "They believe that if the right person sees their documents, their problems will be solved." But the paper chase is maddeningly ineffective. Zhou Mingqin, a http://www.time.corn/time/asia/magazine/printout/O,13675,50104030... 2/24/2004 8:48 AM TIME Asia Magazine: Nothing Left To Lose -— March 1, 2004 / Vol. 30f4 75-year-old woman from Henan province, rode on the back of a tricycle-wagon pedaled by her son for the 600-km trip to Beijing. She wants an investigation into the deaths of three family members, whom she claims were killed for being too inquisitive about missing disaster—relief funds granted to her village after a devastating hailstorm. In August 2002, Zhou says she walked into the civil-affairs sector of the Henan Provincial People's Court to deliver her petition, only to have a policeman punch her in the face. Months after lodging her complaint in Beijing, she finally got a written notice from the NPC petition office. Its advice? Zhou should send her grievance to the very same civil—affairs department where she says she was assaulted. The tragedy of China's petition system, which far predates the communists and was even mentioned in records from 3,000 years ago, is that it leaves so many complainants in a position of endless purgatory. The central government values the procedure as an escape valve for societal discontent, but even in the unlikely event that a petition office rules in favor of a complainant, it has no legal power to enforce its decision. It just passes on a recommendation to the relevant body, usually the same local government that denied the petitioner justice in the first place. In Zhou's case, Henan officials have now been alerted to her troublesome complaints. Scared to go home for fear of retribution and uncertain that Beijing officials will do anything more to help, she is stuck in limbo. All she can do, like thousands of others, is stay and wait. Still, petitioners continue to stream into the capital. Few can match the dedication of Yu Zhengyang, a sanitation worker from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. In the winter of 1997, says Yu, his wife, Zhou Hongxia, disappeared after being summoned to a provincial police station in Xicheng. A few months later, Yu recounts, her body was found in a latrine pit just 15 m from the police headquarters. The police autopsy report ruled her death a suicide, but Yu says that doesn't explain why her body was covered in bruises and lacerations. Yu was particularly alarmed when police repeatedly visited his home, urging him to hand over the battered corpse for immediate cremation. Fearing that the only proof he had of a possible murder would be reduced to ashes, Yu secretly buried the body in the snow-covered woods near his home. Even now, seven years later, he packs salt around the corpse several times a week to preserve the evidence. Whenever he heads to Beijing to petition for an investigation into her death, his son takes over the salting duties. Yu had planned to go to the capital next month, but he claims that a local public-security official is paying him $2 a day to stay at home during the politically sensitive NPC period. However, Yu plans to renew his quest when the congress ends. "I will petition until I die," Yu vows. "After that, I know my son will continue until he, too, dies." There is a place now reserved for their bones, a burial ground in http://www.time.corn/time/asia/magazine/printout/0,l3675,50104030... 2/24/2004 8:48 AM TIME Asia Magazine: Nothing Left To Lose -- March 1, 2004 / Vol. 4of4 Beijing dedicated to those who have died for their lost causes. A row of 14 unkempt graves lies near a railroad track, a tiny plot of earth too isolated for anyone but petitioners to claim. Some of those buried here had committed suicide out of despair, including one man who last April threw himself in front of a train just meters away from his eventual grave. Others succumbed to disease after living in flimsy shacks through Beijing‘s frigid winters. "I wonder if their families even know they are buried here," says photographer Bin. "People just come to petition, and disappear.” One of the latest to vanish is Li Guanqing, the Shandong province villager. A few minutes after Li spoke to a TIME journalist on the night of Feb. 12, a police car with sirens blazing screeched up to the curb near Li‘s bedraggled tent. Somebody, it seems, had alerted the cops that a nosy foreigner was asking questions about sensitive matters. The tight security was unsurprising, given an emergency notice circulated to officials by the Ministry of Land and Resources this month that urged: "When signs of petitioners entering Beijing arise, [officials] must mobilize all local channels to engage in dissuasion work." By the next day, Li was nowhere to be found, his tent deserted. Just behind the spot where Li had pitched his tent, at the Supreme Court petition office, a group of some 150 men milled around the entrance. They were not petitioners but officials from various provinces there to pick up any stragglers who had made it to the capital. Often, according to petitioners, the officials pretend to help the visitors, befriending them in a familiar dialect, before hauling them off to the railway station for a forced ride home. As for Li, chances are he was swept up in a similar fashion. He will probably be back before long. After all, he has traveled to Beijing 150 times and been thrown out on each occasion. What is just one more trip for these veterans of lost causes? K’xv’itl’! reporting [hon King Ref} in http://www.time.corn/time/asia/rnagazine/printout/O,13675,50104030... 2/24/2004 8:48 AM ...
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