Lotus Ruan

China’s ‘Petitioning Mother’ Wins Appeal: Netizens Ask, ‘Is This Victory?’

Tang Hui stands outside the court (via Weibo/Fair Use)

Almost half a year after suing local authorities for sending her to a labor camp to keep her from petitioning for justice, Tang Hui, also known as the “petitioning mother上访妈妈,” finally won her appeal on July 15 in a case against the Yongzhou labor camp authorities in Hunan province, south-central China.

According to China’s state-run media, the Hunan Provincial People’s High Court in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, has ordered the Yongzhou labor camp authorities to pay Tang – who had petitioned for justice for her eleven-year-old daughter after the girl was raped by seven men – 2,941 RMB (about US$478) for “infringing upon [Tang's] personal freedoms” and “causing mental damage” during her nine-day detention in the labor camp.

Earlier this year, a lower court dismissed Tang’s request for compensation because it claimed she had been upsetting social stability through her petitioning.

Although the success of Tang’s appeal should not have been a surprise given existing law, as one of Tang’s lawyer’s, Pu Zhiqiang, pointed out, it still came as a surprise to many who were following the case.  Even in the eyes of a vice-chief of a local court in Hubei province, who chose to remain anonymous, Tang’s chances of winning her case were slim based on public documents provided by the Yongzhou labor camp authorities. “The result of this case is due in large part to the fact that the re-education through labor system is about to be abolished, and the high court has also taken Tang’s sufferings into consideration,” the vice-chief noted.

Perhaps that is why the ruling was widely welcomed by Chinese domestic media, who commented that it meant much to both Tang herself and to everyone affected by the re-education through labor, or laojiao, system. The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party, wrote on its verified Sina Weibo account, “Though Tang’s demand for a written apology was not upheld, and the compensation was just symbolic, the final verdict at least offered [positive] feedback [to Tang Hui]尽管书面道歉请求未获支持,象征性的赔偿金、抚慰金,也不能完全宽慰备受煎熬的内心,但终审结果总算给了说法.”

However, reactions were more lukewarm among China’s Internet users, as microblogger @平菇爱豆腐 said, “I just feel sad. To me, the ruling is just the way things should be, but now it is treated like a huge success. What a ‘harmonious’ society!我觉得挺悲哀的,在我看来胜诉本来就是理所应当的。搞的现在好像重大胜利似的。这就是“和谐”社会

In fact, instead of paying tribute to the Hunan High Court’s decision, most Chinese Internet users have expressed disappointment that the court denied Tang’s demand for a written apology. User @朱中华律师–国际工程律师 wrote, “Apologizing in court instead of publicly is inappropriate. It’s not like you’re doing something wrong, why would you need to cover it up? [But] in order to counteract the effect on the victim and to show sincerity, [relevant authorities] should make a public apology via the media当庭致歉代替公开道歉不妥,又不是干偷事,为何竟遮遮掩掩,羞于见人!为挽回对被害人影响,表示致歉诚意,应当在媒体上公开致歉!.”

Other responses went further. User @风无形QQ remarked, “As far as I am concerned, Tang Hui did not win her case, as her request for a written apology was denied. Even if it could be called a success, I would say the price she paid was too high唐慧并没有胜利,至少在我看来,书面道歉的要求被驳回。即使算胜利的话,代价也太惨痛了。.” User @淡出江湖2950280303 wrote, “Tang’s victory is no cause for happiness. The government is willing to spend 10,000 RMB on ‘stability maintenance,’ but not to offer an apology to a suffering mother. The 2,000 RMB was more like charity than compensation唐慧的胜诉并不能让人高兴起来。他们宁愿花数十万来维稳,对饱受恶法伤害的唐妈妈吝啬得连一句道歉的话也没有。与其说花数十万维稳不如说是保乌纱。两千元的国家赔偿与其说是补尝不如说是施舍。帝王将相宁有种乎?在中国的法制史上,此案当有一席之地,而历史的耻辱柱上也将钉上几只小丑.”

Tang was originally sentenced to 18 months of re-education through labor at a camp in Yongzhou last year for repeatedly campaigning for harsher punishments against the seven men who kidnapped, raped, and forced her then 11-year-old daughter into prostitution. Local authorities argued that her petitioning was “causing serious disruption to the workplace and social order, and having devastating social influence.” After her sentencing led to public backlash, the local authorities released Tang one week after she was sent to the labor camp.

At that time, Tang’s release gave hope to many Chinese netizens following the case that public opinion could make a difference and that the laojiao system might indeed be facing abolition. Yet the ruling by Hunan’s High Court has not inspired such hope this time around.

Some netizens believed that Tang’s victory highlights “the imperfections within the system法治的不完善.” As Jiang Jianxiang, the head of the Yongzhou Re-education Through Labor Committee, stated, Tang’s verdict does not mean that the laojiao system or the local authorities’ decision to sentence Tang to a labor camp were illegal. The case may not be any indication that the notorious laojiao system is coming to an end.

For Tang Hui herself however, the verdict was not dramatic, joyful, or regrettable, and it did not have much to do with the laojiao system or other big-picture issues. After years of petitioning and campaigning for justice for her daughter, the 40-year-old mother simply viewed it as an end to her petitioning journey and a chance to “return to life as an ordinary person,” saying: “I finally won the case after years of petitioning; it was too exhausting.

Perhaps it was user @陈军___CJ who truly understood Tang:

It has never been about the money. It was just that what she needed to do as well as those who surrounded her required money. In her later pursuits, Tang had no choice. She would have chosen a normal life if she could have, so those who are following Tang’s case and surrounding her please leave Tang alone, let her choose for herself and figure out what she really wants怎么又是钱,她的初衷不是钱,但她做的事需要钱,一些围着她起哄的人需要钱,唐慧走到后来,应该是已经不由自己,如果她愿意,她会选择平静的生活,围观者最好的只能付出同情心,对这对王母女来说,她们更大的苦难才开始,请围她身边起哄的人走开,让她选择,正如这样战斗,底线是她真实需要什么?.

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Lotus Ruan

Lotus Ruan is a graduating student at Beijing Foreign Studies University, and was born and raised in Guangzhou. Currently, she is an editorial intern at Ifeng.com and has published several news articles in the Southern Metropolis Daily, New Business Magazine, and Hong Kong Independent Media. She is particularly interested in sociology and world politics.
  • Paul Schoe

    Thanks for keeping us up-to-date about the result for Mrs. Tang of this case that got so much publicity. I do wonder if her actions ever changed anything in the (light) punishment of the perpetrators who kidnapped and raped her 11-year old daughter.

    • Lotus

      Hi Paul. Sadly no.

      Tang’s case actually involves three lawsuits, one about her daughter’s being raped, one about Tang herself being illegally detained by local government and the later led to the last lawsuit as discussed above, that is, Tang’s suing against local laojiao authorities and asking for compensation.

      Tang’s petitions have undoubtedly drawn the public’s attention to her daughter’s case but none of her actions help change the punishment of the accused. Guess Tang’s campaign was a failure in some sense.

      • Paul Schoe

        Unfortunately a failure in that sense. Injustice not being corrected.
        But it was a success looking at it two other perspectives:
        a) the public attention given to the perpetrators (very humiliating)
        b) the attention that it drew (also in Beijing) to the misuse by local authorities of the laojiao system