亚洲华尔街日报：烂透的制度 A System `Rotting From the Ground Up
20, Feb 2006 17:14
A System `Rotting From the Ground Up'
(Feb. 20, 2006)By Sara Davis
20 February 2006 The Wall Street Journal Asia
As if China's peasants didn't have enough woes. Now, they have to contend with local officials who hire thugs to enforce their will and silence opposition.
While this problem has gone largely unreported by the media, I and two research assistants documented nearly three dozen cases in which petitioners in Beijing alleged that officials hired thugs to silence them. Petitioners are mostly rural Chinese who appeal to senior government officials to intercede in their complaints of official abuse. Thousands travel to Beijing to do so. Most of those we interviewed said their problems began when they challenged corrupt local officials who later sent gangsters to beat, threaten or even kill them.
Jiang from Shanxi was one such petitioner. He limped into our interview on crutches, and told us that his disability dated to the time when he began complaining about graft committed by the deputy Communist Party secretary of his village. The deputy secretary, he alleged, hired a gangster and drove him to Jiang's home on the back of his motorcycle. The gangster went inside and attacked Jiang with a lead pipe, attempting to kill him but instead shattering his leg. While Jiang and his wife fought for their lives, the deputy Party secretary waited outside on his motorcycle to give the thug a ride home.
A group of farmers from a suburb of Beijing had equally bloody accounts. The township deputy mayor, they alleged, sold their land to a private fishing farm without consent of the village. A village woman organized over three hundred villagers to sign a petition in protest. The day after she submitted it, she disappeared in the middle of the night. Her family believes she is dead.
The farmers decided they would camp out on their land to defend it. The deputy mayor, they said, sent a gang of a hundred and twenty thugs wielding clubs to force them off the land. Faced with the clubs, they fled. We asked the farmers if they had tried taking their case to court. "The local court refused to accept the case," said one. "We have a saying," added another. " Guanguan xianghu -- officials take care of one another."
This idiom -- "officials take care of one another" -- sums up the experiences of many who tried to file complaints about attacks on them by hired thugs. "We went to the city police, the city government, and the county police, everyone," said a Henan petitioner, who reported that he and his family had been attacked and nearly killed by a strongman in the pay of county authorities. "I did it for two years and no one cared. Nothing happened."
Moreover, their attempts to petition about these assaults in Beijing only exposed petitioners to the risk of further violence. Many local officials send "retrievers" to Beijing -- out-of-uniform police and hired gangsters who track down petitioners, threaten and beat them, and often, throw them in detention on trumped-up charges -- all to prevent their complaints.
Though our interviewees came from a range of provinces and social backgrounds, their accounts, shocking at first in their brutality, quickly began to acquire a numbing sameness. Taken together, they painted a picture of a system rotting from the ground up. Without accountability, some of the officials who hire goons to terrorize farmers today will climb the ranks tomorrow, gaining ever greater responsibility. In the worst-case scenario, China could descend into warlordism.
For now, Beijing has tried to force the problem back on the local officials themselves, urging them to exercise greater restraint and "resolve" problems locally. To encourage this, Beijing police are rounding up petitioners en masse and shipping them back to their home towns. But this, of course, merely creates incentives for gangster officials to enforce silence through violent measures. While this may calm the streets of Beijing for a few months, before long we will see larger explosions in the countryside.
What is needed is for the government to launch an investigation into the use of thugs. China's criminal law prohibits kidnapping, violence and threats. Chinese police and prosecutors should use this law to prosecute thugs and officials who hire them. There have been some tentative steps in this direction: On Feb. 9, authorities convicted a Hebei official who hired muscle men to beat and kill protesters.
The knottier problem is that China needs a fair and impartial court system: a procuratorate that can build cases against officials, and an independent judiciary able to hear those cases impartially. Unless China develops institutions that enable villagers to hold local officials accountable for their misdeeds, jailing one or two officials will not bring about systemic reform.
Ms. Davis is a writer based in New York and the author of "Song and Silence: Ethnic revival on China's southwest borders," (Columbia University Press, 2005).