The public reception room at the Guangdong Government compound in Guangzhou was unusually crowded last Wednesday when the Provincial People's Congress opened its annual session. Peasant women with their children, from Hedong district in Nanhai city, filled the small room waiting to lobby deputies. They were complaining about a 10-year-old land resettlement dispute with the local railway authorities and demanding more compensation and clarification of their residential status. Public security guards nervously guarded the women and kept an eye on the door to the conference room many metres away. Inside, the deputies were discussing Governor Lu Ruihua's annual work report and were expected to leave any minute for a break. The guards, given clear instructions to maintain order, quietly mobilised more uniformed officers and locked the door of the reception room. Minutes later, the conference door opened and the deputies began to leave. The women and their children in the reception room started to scream. They stretched their hands through the windows hoping to attract the deputies' attention but most did not seem to notice them. It was a typical case of peasants bringing their grievances to the higher authorities in the provincial capital. Legendary Song Dynasty judge Bao Qingtian was known for taking up cases of injustice for the exploited who would 'intercept' the 'upright official' - qingguan - on the road to present their cases. The waiting women seemed to be yearning for their own qingguan as their best hope for justice. Official channels of redress can often be blocked by corrupt local officials. To the peasant women from Hedong, the 714 deputies represented their best chance of finding a 'Judge Bao'. In law, deputies have the power to supervise the Government and can summon officials to make them explain their policies. They can also initiate investigations into misconduct by officials if they are convinced there has been a violation of the law. According to Guangdong People's Congress chairman Zhu Senlin, members summoned officials from two government departments in 1998 and planned to scrutinise more than a dozen departments this year. The effectiveness of the deputies' supervision of the Government and their dealing with public complaints is not clear. Most deputies are Communist Party members, many of them party secretaries, model workers and government cadres. A large number are retired officials and military and police officers. While many deputies have become increasingly critical, public dissent remains unheard of. In spite of their duties, none has a public office to receive constituents. The deputies' credibility is also an issue. Often, petitioners appear to have more faith in foreign journalists than the deputies. 'Please help us, report our grievances and let the world know the great injustice befalling us,' one of the women from Hedong, who was waiting outside the reception room, begged reporters. Nevertheless, the authorities are now more experienced in handling petitioners and serious confrontations are not frequent. Female officers are now brought in to handle women protesters and, compared with a few years ago, public security officers are more tolerant. The protesters, on their part, also show political maturity. Instead of staging public demonstrations or blocking traffic, they often resort to legal channels such as appeals to People's Congress deputies or the courts. Lu Baitao, president of Guangdong Supreme People's Court, said on Sunday that the judiciary handled more than 1,500 public petitions last year. However, the women from Hedong did not get their names added to that list last week.