Victim continues fight for official redress

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2006, 12:00am

Long before it became common for mainlanders to petition the authorities over their grievances, Xiao Jianhua had been demanding compensation for suffering and damage inflicted on him during the Cultural Revolution.

The son of a nationalist soldier from Hangzhou , Zhejiang , has for 26 years been seeking redress for the denunciation and violent treatment he suffered during the period.

Only 16 when the upheaval began, Mr Xiao lost the hearing in his right ear and had his sciatic nerve damaged during one of the assaults meant to force him to admit his alleged crimes against the revolution.

He was given an 18-year sentence for being a counter-revolutionary in 1967 and released 12 years later.

'I was in such bad shape that I couldn't even move a quilt and I had an ailing mother to take care of,' said Mr Xiao.

Poor health prevented him from getting a proper job, but Mr Xiao made the fight for government compensation a long-term mission.

Having filed at least four written applications for compensation to courts in Hangzhou and petitioned various courts and government departments every year since 1980, Mr Xiao earned the nickname 'ambassador of the petitioners'. But his petitions have only met with rejection.

'Some of the officials told me I should feel lucky that I didn't die in the revolution. That's so ridiculous.'

At first, a court denied his application for a rural residence permit - Mr Xiao originally lived in urban Hangzhou, but was displaced to the countryside in 1958. 'They said since I was living in the countryside and didn't belong to any work unit, there was no body which could pay me compensation.'

After the government introduced the Law of State Compensation in 1995, Mr Xiao's request was rejected because the law could not be applied retroactively.

'In 1992, Ma Shiyong [then the deputy mayor of Hangzhou] said the government would pay us when the city's economy picked up. But when the economy improved in 1998, he said it was impossible for government to pay compensation to all the Cultural Revolution victims, as there were 350,000 eligible people in Hangzhou alone,' Mr Xiao said.

That official's concern may well be a legitimate stumbling block to a growing appeal for the government to pay compensation to victims of the revolution.

A Hong Kong magazine reported this month that some members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference had proposed during the annual session of the National People's Congress in March that the state should set up a national fund for families whose loved ones were killed during the period.

Song Yongyi , an expert on the Cultural Revolution at the University of California, Los Angeles, said academics estimated the death toll at 3 million, while 200 million of the 600 million-strong population were affected.

'Of course, I support the proposals for the government to pay compensation, but it's impossible, the scale is enormous,' Mr Song said.

But Xu Youyu , of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the problem was a lack of will.

'The government can handle this, but it doesn't want to do it. When some top-level officials and even their children have been given compensation for their losses during the revolution, why can't ordinary people be compensated?' Professor Xu asked, quoting sources at the academy who say senior officials had received reparations.

To start with, the government should return private property illegally confiscated in the revolution, Professor Xu said.

'In almost every city, private property was illegally taken away and has yet to be returned to the owners. There are a few million such cases in Beijing, but the government is doing nothing.'

Mr Xiao, however, says he will not give up. 'The government talks about social harmony and rule of law all the time, but that's not being translated into action.'

Mr Xiao's wife, 50, supported the family by selling vegetables for two years and then became a cleaner. She was diagnosed with cancer last year. Things improved slightly when the family was granted a monthly allowance of 840 yuan between 2000 and 2004. Starting last year, Mr Xiao was also entitled to a monthly state pension of 1,150 yuan.