From Global Voices:
“American Petitioner in China”
Julie Harms, an American and a Harvard graduate, hit the news as she becomes one of the few, or perhaps the first, foreign petitioner in China. Her case was a grievance against the government that her fiancé, Liu Shiliang, was jailed on a charge which she says is not true. She met Liu Shiliang a decade ago while traveling in China. They were engaged in 2007, but the wedding was delayed because of a neighbor dispute that year, and Liu was arrested in June this year on a trespassing charge.
Julie decided to resort to the petition system in Beijing this year as she feels that the local judicial system has failed to resolve the dispute with justice. The letter and visit petition system (xinfang) is an administrative system for hearing complaints and grievances from individuals in China. The state and local bureaus of letters and visits are in charge of receiving letters, calls and visits from individuals or groups.
While the verdict of the case is still to be decided, the experience of petitioning must have let Julie realized the differences of the Chinese and American legal system. As she has commented (from the news report above):
Local authorities are essentially counting on the fact that the local people don’t have that much knowledge of the law. I think it’s a shame.
Comments on a Sina forum point to the legal and cultural gap between China and the US:
Westerners petition in China because they are still in the mindset of their country’s legal system. They fail to realise that they are in China. While we Chinese are used to it, Westerners still have to adjust to the Chinese way. It is sad, but is the reality!
Seems Westerners are still unfamiliar with China; they are demanding rule of law and human rights – things which do not exist in China.
The petitioning system is just for show. For people who still think it is useful, I suggest they better popularise their case in the media to create an impact.
A NetEase forum also contains similarly negative comments:
I don’t want to belittle my country, but I cannot help but say: leave this country together with your husband. China is not a place where you Americans could survive. It is also uncertain when China would become a place with universal values which are suitable for people to live in. At least, China now does not have rule of law. This is what even a Harvard graduate could not understand.
In this ‘mysterious’ state, there are a lot of strange things. I hope she would achieve what she hopes for. Make a film about the case – in this country, an issue could be resolved when you draw enough attention.