On August 17th, a Chinese female petitioner, Luo Yuying（罗玉英）, received an unexpected phone call from the Supreme People’s Court of Chengdu. Luo was notified that her appeal for a case spanning over 22 years had exceeded the statute of limitations. “Luo Yuying’s experience is not an isolated case; there are numerous individuals who, like her, have pursued petitioning and legal remedies for decades without reaching meaningful resolutions. This is a snapshot of China’s petitioning system and legal framework,” said female human rights lawyer Liu Wei（刘巍）.
Luo, originally from Nanbu County, Sichuan Province, is the mother of Wang Xiaoyan（汪小燚）, a former soldier who served in the 44th Division Brigade Training Unit of the 15th Army, originally part of the 97951 Airborne Troops in the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese Air Force. During Wang’s time in the unit in 2001, he requested 3 days of bereavement leave due to the passing of his grandmother. His instructor Zhao Yumin （赵玉民）, who had recently granted a half-month personal leave for another soldier, denied Wang’s request. Troubled by the unfair treatment, Wang had intended to voice his grievances to his superior, but his instructor intervened by restraining him, subjecting him to severe mistreatment and torture. That evening, he was brutally assaulted. For the first three days, he was shackled to a window, deprived of food, water, and sleep, and forcibly stripped of his clothing, leaving him exposed to mosquito bites throughout the night. After two days of confinement, he began to exhibit signs of illness, which continued throughout the continuous 16-day period of detention before he was sent back to Nanbu County.
The Armed Forces Department of Nanbu County and the Party Committee and Government of Nanlong Town, upon observing Wang’s condition, recognized signs of illness but refused to document his case. Moreover, the military unit took an unfair stance by attempting to place the blame on Wang. They cited his alleged infractions during his service with the 95964 unit, including six instances of unauthorized absence from the unit, staying out at night without permission, and unauthorized internet use, totaling 18 days. Consequently, on June 9, 2001, they issued a severe warning, followed by Wang’s expulsion from the military, the revocation of his Air Force rank, and his repatriation to his hometown on July 9, 2001.
In June 2004, representatives from the Nanbu County Armed Forces Department agreed to provide the Wang family with immediate economic compensation of 150,000 RMB, in addition to other commitments from the Nanbu County government. However, as of today, the military has yet to fulfill this agreement. Nanbu County has even faked signatures of Wang’s family to cover up.
From a once healthy young man, Wang Xiaoyan has now become a critically ill individual grappling with left kidney atrophy, severe renal impairment, compensatory increased function in the right kidney, and mental disorders. Wang Xiaoyan’s mother Luo Yuying has then embarked on a quest for justice and answers through petitioning and legal action.
Luo’s ex-husband, Wang Yuanpei （汪元培）, a former County Audit Bureau official, was forced to retire early. He endured severe repercussions, including long-lasting effects from a serious concussion, stemming from relentless physical and emotional abuse and humiliation. Wang Yuanpei eventually divorced Luo and distanced himself from the family in 2005. Luo has been fighting alone since then.
Luo initially filed a lawsuit against the Nanbu County Government, alleging the wrongful expulsion of Wang Xiaoyan from the military and the revocation of his Air Force rank. Nanchong Shunqing District Court ruled against her in 2006. Subsequent appeals in 2007 proved unsuccessful. Since February 2008, Luo has submitted multiple written applications for retrial to the Sichuan Provincial High People’s Court, none of which received any response.
Compounded by the lack of progress, Luo attempted to petition her case to various authorities, including the Sichuan County Armed Forces Department, the Air Force 15th Army 44th Division (where her son was stationed), and higher-ranking military officials. None of these efforts resulted in a resolution, with some officials even declining to meet with her.
Luo then decided to petition her case to Beijing, the highest authority. However, she did so against provincial authorities as they raised concerns about the potential repercussions on Sichuan Province’s political performance rating. Consequently, each of her attempts to travel to Beijing and lodge her petition was met with impediments and retaliation.
“During that time, the County Magistrate interrogated and threatened me every day,” Luo recalled. She was punched in the face several times, which later resulted in blindness. She was sent to a reeducation-through-labor camp in Sichuan Province in 2006. In July 2014, while in Beijing petitioning, she was forcibly taken by eight individuals led by a Sichuan public security officer. They abducted her from Majialou and transported her to the Public Security Bureau’s liaison office in Beijing. Subsequently, she was confined in the basement of Compound 5, Air Force Maintenance Unit, Liuliqiao, Beijing.
In fact, official retaliation against petitioners is commonplace in China’s petitioning scene. According to China’s human rights report in 2022 by the U.S. State Department, petitioning regulations encourage the resolution of all litigation-related petitions primarily within local or provincial courts, creating incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher authorities. On April 7th, 2022, the State Council of PRC introduced an amended Regulation on Petitioning (信访工作条例) that partly intended to deal with “cross-level petitioning” (越级上访), which refers to the practice of petitioners bypassing lower-level government authorities and directly petitioning higher-level ones to address their issues. The amendment further complicates matters for petitioners like Luo Yuying as it heightens the risk of their issues becoming entangled within the local jurisdictions that are at the root of their problems. Moreover, local security personnel was sent to Beijing to pressure petitioners into returning home, resulting in unrecorded detentions or extralegal “black jails”.
“There is no room for petitioning now. Any attempt to petition in Beijing results in arrest, repatriation to the petitioner’s place of origin, imprisonment in clandestine facilities, or legal prosecution,” Liu Wei commented. Former female petitioner and human rights lawyer Wang Qiangpeng （王清鹏）also commented on China’s petitioning scene: “Petitioning is a dead end, as government officials exploit it to prolong issues and wear down petitioners’ hope. China’s petitioning system under an authoritarian regime does not provide solutions ”.
In the past 22 years, Luo has exhausted her savings, mortgaged her house, and incurred substantial debts to petition and seek medical treatment for her son. She has faced numerous life-threatening situations during her continuous appeals and petitions, enduring detention and re-education through labor for a total duration of at least six years. Her vision has deteriorated to near-total blindness (classified as a second-degree disability), and her mental state is on the verge of complete collapse. Additionally, she suffers from severe PTSD resulting from repeated beatings, detention, and other traumatic experiences. For example, Luo recalled that petitioners at the Military Commission had no access to food or water, resulting in the unfortunate deaths of many individuals due to starvation.
On May 26, 2023, Luo Yuying’s case was finally documented and registered by the National Bureau of Petition in Beijing. Luo has not heard back from them since. In May 2023, Luo Yuying submitted an appeal to the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China, seeking a retrial. Even this last resort was abruptly terminated by the phone call she received after all these years of struggling for justice. “My son is a soldier, and his service helped bring justice to people. It troubles me that I cannot help him seek justice,” Luo said.
“After 22 years of petitioning, Luo Yuying’s grievances remain resolved. Her story illustrates the oppressive nature of China’s petitioning and legal system,” Liu Wei ardently commented. Luo Yuying’s story has received limited coverage in Chinese media, and U.S.-China Today is the first English-language media to report on her case. For scholars and business professionals interested in China’s legal and petitioning system, Luo Yuying’s story provides valuable insights into the system’s realities.
1. Luo Yuyung, female petitioner
2. Gloria Guo, journalist from U.S.-China Today
3. Liu Wei, human rights lawyer