Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sichuan Authorities off Message as Victims’ Families Demand Redress

The Beijing correspondent for Yomiuri reports on June 4 that more than a hundred parents and relatives of the students who were killed when a middle school collapsed during the Sichuan Earthquake convened in front of the local courthouse to file law suits against the school, but were stopped and pushed away by police, who told them to not to seek judicial relief (600,000 Yuan per victim), but to file petitions instead.

Such clashes or worse appear to be par for the course in China when locals complain about land seizures, industrial pollutions and the like, often leading to bloodshed and sometimes even deaths. The authorities can be brutal in suppressing grievances. However, the lawyer for the families apparently felt it safe to talk to a Yomiuri reporter, likely a Chinese national dispatched to or permanently stationed in Sichuan.

Two points: First, I want to see how this case unfolds. Despite the rampant corruption and brutality at the local level, the central government and specifically the Hu-Wen regime enjoy widespread support. I want to know how well the Beijing leadership ultimately fares in maintaining and possibly even enhancing the trust that the Chinese public credits it with. Second, I want to see if the new public communication rules endure beyond the Sichuan Earthquake and its consequences. The openness is reassuring to the outside world, but it must also be liberating for the Chinese who have been caught up in it. Does it raise the bar for the Chinese authorities for other incidents, good and bad? Has it altered the Chinese relationship between the authorities and civil society?

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