A Cold Anniversary

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Today was China’s annual “law day,” when the adoption of the 1982 constitution is marked. Officially the day is meant to publicize the country’s legal system, but for some it is a day to bring attention to their claims of injustice. China’s petition system, which dates back to imperial times, is the last resort for citizens who feel their rights have been violated, often in cases involving personal injury, corruption or forced evictions. The petition system is a long shot. Just 2 out of every 1,000 petitions achieve any results.

On “law day” in Beijing the petitioners meet outside the offices of Beijing Television and China Central Television or the official petition office near Tiananmen Square. Given the relatively lenient approach authorities have taken to recent strikes by taxi drivers, Lin Yang and I visited those sites this morning to see if the same warming trend was present in Beijing.

It wasn’t. The temperature was below freezing, and the likely protest spots were teeming with cops. Not a good day to be a petitioner. This summer Beijing officials, despite their pledge to allow space for demonstrations during the Olympics, proved to have zero tolerance for protests, even threatening a pair of grannies with labor camp. The Games are now a memory, but that approach to dissent hasn’t gone anywhere.