Children pay hefty price as parents wage weary battle to correct injustices
Guo Yanzou , 49, knows well that his son's life has been ruined by petitioning. But he now has a new cause - to save his son.
The former fisherman from Zhejiang province said he was crippled after he was tortured by police who accused him of rape in 1997. He was released after 79 days of detention with no formal trial and he began his impossible mission - trudging between government offices on his crutches to seek compensation.
Like many petitioners who grow more obsessed with petitioning every time they are rejected, harassed and physically abused, Mr Guo was too angry and busy to take care of his son.
'My son was only 14 years old then. He had nothing to eat and he did not go to school. All he could do was to steal and rob,' Mr Guo said as he put on a crudely made vest with his petition written on it in red ink - a typical way for petitioners to express their grievances.
Seven years ago, his then 17-year-old son, Guo Jiarong , was jailed for 14 years for stealing about 2,000 yuan.
Mr Guo was infuriated and he started going to Beijing to petition again - this time for the release of his son because he believed a juvenile criminal like Jiarong did not deserve such a heavy sentence.
Although he won the sympathy of legal scholars in Beijing, little could be done to help his son.
'When I visited my son in prison, he told me to stop petitioning. He said his sentence would be reduced if I stopped,' Mr Guo said. 'My son told me his sentence was an act of revenge for my petitioning.'
His tragedy is common among the children of petitioners - there is a broken family behind almost every veteran petitioner.
Divorce is common when the spouses of petitioners can no longer take the pressure and poverty, and many children are left without care or dragged along by a sole parent between government departments in the long years of unanswered petitions.
A Heilongjiang petitioner, who gave up her lobbying when her son went astray, said many neglected children of petitioners had turned into rebellious youths and juvenile delinquents.
She requested anonymity to protect her son and daughter, who are desperate to forget the nightmare of her petitioning crusade. 'These children suffer so much and there are just too many of them who turn into criminals,' she said.
Li Qicheng , 11, started roaming with his father Li Wei at the age of three and has already been to a detention centre three times.
When asked what he hated most in Beijing, Qicheng answered without hesitation 'detention centres'.
And in one of his nightmares, he dreams that his father was beaten to death by police.
In the so-called petition villages in Beijing, veteran petitioners and newcomers can be easily distinguished.
Long years of intimidation, physical abuse, rejection, disappointment and trampled dignity envelop veteran petitioners like an invisible cloak and their desperation easily passes to the next generation.
Zhang Ziyang, a 21-year-old from Dandong in Liaoning province , firmly believed, like his father, that he was a victim.
A neighbour borrowed a bank book from his mother to apply for a commercial licence and stole 90,000 yuan.
His father started a marathon legal battle and began petitioning to get the money back, but in vain.
Mr Zhang graduated from a vocational school in 2003, but believed he had been denied the chance to study at the Beijing University of Physical Education because of the injustice suffered by his family.
'We don't have that 90,000 yuan and that is why I cannot go to [the university],' he said.
He said he had joined his father in his petitioning in Beijing despite his initial reluctance.
Sun Chuanhong , a college graduate breastfeeding her one-year-old daughter, said she could not bear thinking about the future of her child.
But she and her husband Qi Dapeng have nowhere to go after their flat was demolished by the government in Harbin last year after they disagreed with the developer over compensation.
When his home was demolished, Mr Qi climbed an eight-storey crane to protest. Two local newspapers carried almost identical reports about the ordeal, but said Mr Qi's radical action was caused by a family property dispute.
Angry and bitter as he was, Mr Qi could not help but be amused by the false reports about him.
'I am torn between anger and anxiety. Sometimes I am so angry that I want to keep petitioning and sometimes I am so worried about my sick parents and infant child,' he said.
'But even if I want to negotiate with the developer, I have nowhere to go now because they don't want to talk to us.'