Guangzhou uses PR to nip protests in the bud

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 October, 2010, 12:00am

Guangzhou's top leaders have launched a rare, large-scale reception to listen to petitioners' complaints in an apparent publicity campaign to ease social tension ahead of the Asian Games.

Guangzhou Communist Party secretary Zhang Guangning, Mayor Wan Qingliang, city People's Congress Standing Committee director Zhang Guifang and Lin Yuanhe, chairman of the city committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, led 21 other senior officials in the reception at the Liuhua Exhibition Centre in Yuexiu district. Local media reported that 3,978 complaints had been reported by petitioners on Monday.

The city's major newspapers gave front-page coverage to Monday's reception, praising the city leaders and featuring petitioners' joy as they were promised solutions to their problems.Guangzhou held the first such large-scale reception in June 2008, which was also led by Zhang Guangning, mayor at the time.

Activist lawyer Tang Jingling said the large reception two years ago failed to work, and this year's reception was just a tactic to delay protests until the Asian Games were over.

'This is just a move to tame long-accumulated public anger by giving petitioners the hope that their problems could be resolved if higher-ranking officials were there to process their cases. But this is not how it works in China,' Tang said.

He said petitioners were told to wait until further notice after submitting their cases, and that this would help to delay riots or demonstrations until after the Asian Games. Petitioners began queuing in front of the exhibition centre on Sunday hoping to meet the city's party boss.

'When I first arrived, there were already more than 300 people in the queue in front of me,' said a 45-year-old petitioner originally from Jiangxi who arrived at 6am on Monday. She said there were at least 700 people inside the exhibition centre. Only a small number got to meet the mayor, and she was not one of them.

'I am fully aware that this reception is just another show starring top leaders and bitter citizens; there is no other meaning behind this. But I was still curious to see what a stunt such as this looked like in reality,' she said.

'Guangzhou is an extremely divided city, with the rich being super powerful and the grass roots being extremely deprived of their rights. With such a large number of petitioners in Guangzhou, what difference could this one-day reception make?'

Chen Zhiguang, a 34-year-old resident of Luogang district, was one of the first soldiers from Guangdong sent to Tibet in August 1998. He retired in 2000 and came back to Guangdong but found his peasant residency had been deleted and a temporary job had been arranged by the local government. He asked for a permanent job or a peasant household registration in return, but was refused.

At 6pm on Sunday, Chen queued up in the hope of explaining his case to the city's top leaders.

'I was the second in line,' he said. 'Then at 9am the next day I was taken away from the main queue and brought to the Luogang district reception counter,' Chen said. He was denied a chance to meet the top leaders and told to leave his petitioning documents behind. Chen was then escorted home by four officers from Luogang's Social Stability Office, but managed to get away later.