China's leader in surprise visit to 'abused' citizens

China's Premier Wen Jiabao took the highly unusual step yesterday of visiting the country's top petition bureau in Beijing, where people who have had their rights abused by officialdom gather to seek help from the government.

Going to the petition bureau often earns the plaintiff a painful kicking and a ticket home, or sometimes a stay in a detention centre. But amid growing public dissatisfaction about land grabs, police torture, official corruption and unhappiness about rising prices in China, the government is keen to show it cares.

Premier Wen, a leader called "Granddad Wen" for his common touch, urged citizens to voice their criticisms of the government and speak out about injustice. It was the first time since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 that a premier has met ordinary petitioners.

The government must "create conditions that allow citizens to criticise and supervise the government, and enable government to responsibly resolve the problems and difficulties of the masses," he said.

His visit to the petition bureau comes just before the start of the Year of the Rabbit, which begins on 3 February. This is a time when Chinese people try to get any outstanding business cleared before the arrival of the new lunar year.

For a government mindful of the need to keep a firm grip on single-party rule, clearing up growing public anger about abuse by officialdom features high on the order of business.

Petitioning is an ancient system dating from the imperial era, where Chinese people who felt they were being abused by the system turned to the Emperor for help. They would travel to the capital to petition for the assistance of the supreme authority.

The petitioners' first port of call is the "letters and visits" office of their provincial capital. If they fail to get anything from the local officials, they then head to Beijing to plead their cases.

The tradition has continued in the Communist era, but in the past few years it has become a dangerous practice. Any petitioners seen near Tiananmen Square, for example, are rounded up and often jailed in so-called "black jails" or the "petitioners' hotels".

Premier Wen made his visit as the Chinese blogosphere was abuzz about a violent satirical cartoon made to mark the start of the Year of the Rabbit. It is a daring revolutionary call to arms and was initially spread via Chinese social networking sites, although it has since been blocked.

The video starts off looking like an animated nursery rhyme, with rabbits playing in the field, while the soundtrack is a modified version of a children's song.

It quickly turns violent, featuring some of the big themes of contemporary China, including the plight of petitioners, but also toxic milk killing babies, official cover-ups and a fire in which many die, although the leaders, personified by rabbits, escape.

In one scene there is reference to a cadre's son who allegedly ran over a young woman while drunk and tried to use his father's high office to avoid responsibility.

He told passersby "Sue me. My father is Li Gang," believing he was untouchable because of his father, a high-ranking regional official. The final scenes are of the rabbits rising up and attacking the leaders. "The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they're pushed."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible