Saturday, January 18, 2014

Xin Fang Reform in the Wake of the 3rd Plenum?

I have been writing about the 3rd Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party (e.g., Gearing Up for the 3rd Plenum of the Central Committee of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress). One of the most interesting products of the 3rd Plenum was its approach to the deportation of petitioners, a discussion bound up with the reform of the laojiao system (e.g., Backer, Larry Catá and Wang, Keren, The Emerging Structures of Socialist Constitutionalism with Chinese Characteristics: Extra Judicial Detention (Laojiao and Shuanggui) and the Chinese Constitutional Order. Conference: Rule of Law with Chinese Characteristics, Vol. 2013, p. 101, 2013; Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal (2014)).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

But those reforms may well have an impact on the system of Xin Fang, China's petition system. In the wake of the 3rd Plenum, reports from China indicated an intent to reform this system (Related stories from state organs: China announces more reforms to petition system 2013-11-29;  Official pledges reforms to China's petition system 2013-11-28; Chinese gov't to address petitioning more efficiently 2013-11-28; Local governments combat "corruption on wheels" 2013-11-24).

This post provides background for those reforms and its possible connecitons with the reform of the laojiao system.  It was prepared by my research assistant Shan Gao (Penn State SJD  expected). 

Building and Rebuilding Xin fang (50s-80s)
Shan Gao

The beginning of Xin fang in 50s

Based on history record, at the beginning of 1950, the General Office of CPC Central Committee Administrative Office was established. One of the responsibilities for the administrative office was to deal with massive letters from the society to Chairman Mao. As Party cadre Yang shangkun, the first director of General Office of CPC Central Committee (1945-1965), put in his Memoir that

“Since 1949 Red army take the control of Beijing, there was enormous amounts of letters from Mao’s old acquaintance that requiring Mao to solve their problems. Also there were large number of letters that expressed appreciates and admires from the nationwide to CPC and Chairman Mao. In responding to those letters, the General Office was established. [1]

(Pix: Left, Yang shangkun’s Memoir, which told readers stories of his works at General Office of Central CPC Committee.[2] Right, Zhong nanhai, it has offices for China’s top leaders. The concept of Xin fang brought up by Mao and operated by General Office of CPC Central Committee, which located at the heart of Zhong nanhai[3].)

By the time of May 16th 1951, Mao ordered General Office that “You cannot ignore people’s letters with bureaucracy. We should properly handle people’s letters and satisfying their reasonable needs. We should consider such communication as an important way to connect Party and Masses[4].” On June 7th, Government Administration Council (GAC hereafter) of the Central People's Government issued Decisions on handling People’s letters and Visitation work, which prescribed the principals, working process and institution organization for such communication.[5] By then, the basic concept of Xin fang had been officially formed[6]. This also means, at the primary stage of forming state organization, Petition system (Xin fang) was first appeared under Party organ structure as a part of CPC General Office. Until GAC of the Central Government’s decision in 1951, the Xin fang system also started to function under Stat organ. In 1957, the First National Working Conference of Xin FANG was held. This conference passed two regulations that each designed to institutionalize Xin fang system under Party and State organ. According to the CPC Liu zhou achieve, Liu zhou CPC Central Committee had one deputy secretary exclusively responsible for people’s letters and visitations to the Party Committee while another government head responsible for the letters or visitations to the government[7]. Such arrangement had been kept ever since then.

Interruption of function by Culture Revolution and Re-establishment

Culture Revolution during the 60s-70s not only interrupted the normal function of Xin fang system but also caused numerous wrongful cases that wait Xin fang to solve. After Culture Revolution ended, in 1979, Central CPC established specialized Xin fang Leading Work Team to solve wrongful cases during the tragedy of Culture Revolution. (Wu 2013) “Later, there were 200 thousand party and state cadres involved in Xin fang working team, which was unprecedented. [8]

The special Xin fang working team was the starting point of re-establish Xin fang system. However, due to the number of cases involved and complexity of the issues caused by Culture Revolutions, there were large numbers of unsolved cases and unsatisfied petitioners who remained around local Xin fang office or repeatedly made petitions to local Xin fang office, which caused problematic social issues. In fact, the large number of unsatisfied petitioners became the center problem of Xin fang system ever since. The solutions to this problem have causing endless debates and controversies. At 80s, in responding to those unsolvable cases and people’s petitions, State Council issued two documents to restrict people’s petition. The 1980 Few Rules on Maintain Xin fang Order authorize public security agency power of deport petitioner when Xin fang office issue affidavit that the petitioner unreasonably remain at Xin fang facility without proper solvable petition case[9]. Public health agency has similar power of removing petitioner when they have reason to believe petitioner has contagious disease that endangered public health.[10]Thus, for the first time, the authority set restrictions on petitioners and gave government power of removing petitioners from Xin fang facility, which opened the door of government’s abuse of such power.

Controversies and Reform (90s-now)

Controversies and deportation of “dangerous petitioners”

Xin Fang, Call and Visit, Petition, whatever you call it. This system was created during a time when China’s has no existence of modern legal system. In certain way, Xin fang system has carried so much hopes when petitioners felt they been failed by incompetent justice system. Xin fang cannot replace courts but its existence is necessary for China’s transitional society. In response to the mounting growth of petitioners, the previous Xin fang facility, which was partially functioned within General Office of State Council and l Central CPC Committee, had ceased its operation. Instead, the State Xin fang Bureau had been set up at the begging of 21st century as a new reform. Also, different government organs set up their own Xin fang office to deal with issues relate to their administrative responsibilities. For example, Xin fang office at Department of Justice will accept complaints or petitions against judges, prosecutors, lawyers, courts or other relate party. Xin fang office at the Organization Department of CPC will accept complaints or petitions against Party members. Thus, comparing with the 50s and 80s, when Party and State organ jointly operate Xin fang facility, the reform trends was separate Party and State Xin fang office and setting up new institution for Xin fang system.

The 1995 Regulations on Xin fang was the first administrative regulations for Xin fang system. Based on this regulation, Xin fang had been defined as

“The term "petitions by letters and calls" used in these Regulations refer to the activities that citizens, legal persons and other organizations, through letters, telephone or personal appearance, report situations or submit opinions, proposals or requests to the people's governments at various levels or departments of the people's governments at and above the county level (hereinafter referred to as administrative organs at various levels) and that shall be dealt with by the relevant administrative organs according to the law.”

The article 7 listed possible ways for petitioner to file his or her cases:

“[B]y letters, telephone or personal appearance…”

This regulation also detailed rules that restrict the behavior of petitioners, such as:

Article 11: Petitioners shall not block or attack any State organ or intercept any vehicle on official duty.

Article 14: The petitioners shall abide by procedures concerning petitions by letters and calls, shall not affect the work process of State organs, shall not damage public or private property at the reception site, shall not harass, insult, beat up or threaten the personnel handling the reception and shall not take along dangerous articles, explosives or controlled devices to the reception site.

Moreover, the 1995 Regulation limited the number of petitioner through the restrictions on class petition. When a group of people present a common petition, they shall present it through telephone or letters. Personal appearance must be presented by elected delegates (maxima delegates are five)[11]. Petition office could also notify public security agency when petitioners’ hostile behavior causing security concerns, or notify public health department in case of contagious disease or mental health issues[12]. 1995 Regulation on Xin fang allow public security agency and public health department deport “uncooperative and dangerous” petitioners. This restrictions was originated from 1982 Few regulations on maintaining Xin fang order and Measures for the Internment and Deportation of Urban Vagrants and Beggars, which allow authority send petitioner to relief shelters for vagrants and beggars or mental hospitals. Thus, sending “uncooperative and dangerous” petitioners to relief shelters had become a standard practice by many local governments.

In 2005, the New Regulations on Xin fang was promulgated by State Council. In facing some negative media exposure of Xin fang system and critics from the public, the new regulation designed to offer more convenient for the petitioner. For example, article 2 allow petitioner to fil complaints through emails or fax. In order to improve the quality of Xin fang petition system, Article 7 provided that the quality of Xin fang work become a new indicator of public servants’ employment performance evaluation, which made public servant be directly responsible for the case of petitioner. The new regulation also requiring governments publicize information and resources that would help petitioner to fail petition or complaints. However, the 2005 new regulation not only fail to improve the quality of Xin fang, but also pressured officials to deport petitioners.

(Deportation of ‘dangerous’ petitioners into relief shelter or Lao jiao was popular practice, regardless of controversies, however it had changed since the abolishment of mandatory deportation measurement for Relief shelter system and abolishment of Lao jiao.)

Measures for the Internment and Deportation of Urban Vagrants and Beggars had been replaced by Measures for Administration of Relief Destitute Vagrants and Beggars in Cities in 2003 because of the exposure of local shelter’s staff members’ unlawful and inhuman practice and national outrage of the death of a college student in relief shelter[13]. The new measurement made public security agencies can no longer mandatorily confine the freedom of vagrants and beggars, which directly made Xin fang facility, cannot let made “un-cooperative and dangerous petitioners” be deported into Relief shelter. Thus, Lao jiao and hospital became the only options left for local authorities when they try to limit the number of petitioners by Lao jiao and hospital.

The logic of deportation

As the above chart indicates, local government and officials has very high incentive of deporting petitioners. It had been a practice by Party and State that the number of petitions cases was an important indicator to show local officials’ excellent skill of solving problems. The logic is simple but executed in a wrong way. Instead of trying to solve those petition case, local official choice to deport those petitioners when their cases are too challenge to solve. Also, Lao jiao facility will gain funding in accordance with the number of admitted people. Moreover, it has been a common practice for authority to have a petition case ranking. The petition case ranking would rank China’s local official’s name based on the number of petition case originate from. It designed to pressure local officials to solve petition case as more as possible. Unfortunately, local official would rather make petitioner disappear by deporting them rather than solve the case.

(Pix: The victim of Lao jiao, petition mom Tang hui[14].)

The abolition of Lao jiao and the reform of Xin fang ranking

The 3rd Plenary Session of 18th CPC Central Committee’s decision on reform had clearly stated to abolish Lao jiao system[15], which ended the 58 years history of Lao jiao system. Lao jiao had always been the tool for local officials to deport petitioners, petition mom Tang hui was one of those victims that been known from nationwide media reports. The 3rd Plenary Session not only abolished Lao jiao system but also mentioned new reforms for Xin fang. Although Xin fang still consider as necessary institutional arrangement for the reality, the authority recently decide to stop Xin fang Ranking[16]. Based on recent news report, considering the negative affect of Xin fang ranking on the wellbeing of petitioner, the authority decided to stop publicize the Xin fang ranking. The new reform designed to relax the social pressure on the local officials result from the high rank of un-resolved petition case by stop publicizing Xin fang rank to the society. Instead, local officials would only face internal (between government agencies) ranking. There are mixed feelings in reacting to the new reforms. Some believed the new reform would minimize the issue of deporting petitioner. Others concerned that officials would not focus on solving petition case when there would be no pressure from ranking. It is still uncertain how the new reform going to be carried out for Xin fang system, however, the abolition of Lao jiao and other reforms on improving the independents of justice system would be helpful for petitioners. At the end of day, nothing more important that the justice being served for those petitioners.


[1] Su weimin, Yang shangkun discuss his twenty years of working at General Office of Central CPC Committee,

[2] Pics from:

[3] Pics from:

[4] Select Works of Mao Zedong, Vol.6 People’s Press , Beijing, 1999

[5] Government Administration Council was the prototype of State Council. It replaced by State Council according to the 1954 Constitution of PRC.'s_Republic_of_China

[6] Collection of People’s Government’s Laws and Regulations, Central Government’s Law Committee 中央人民政府法制委员会编 . 中央人民政府法令汇编(1951年)[M].北京:法律出版社,1982.

[7] Liuzhou Local Chronicles, Xi fang Works.

[8] Wu chao, 2013, Historical Explore of 60 years of Xin fang system. 新中国六十年信访制度的历史考察

[9] Article 3 of Few Rules on Maintain Xin fang Order,

[10] Article 6 of Few Rules on Maintain Xin fang Order,

[11] Article 12 of Regulation on Xin fang

[12] Article 20, 21 and 22 of Regulation on Xin fang

[13] Sun Zhigang’s Death and Reform of Detention System,


[15] See 3rd Plenary session of 18th CPC Congress Reform Decision, The end of 58 year history: A brief walkthrough of Lao jiao

[16] 信访制度正改革将取消排名 影响不亚于劳教废除

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