Free Speech-Deprived Chinese Find Outlet on White House Petition Site
Stifled by their government’s opposition to free speech, citizens of China have used the Internet to reach out to the White House and voice their concerns about problems back home.
On the We the People website created by the Obama administration, thousands of Chinese have joined a petition calling for an investigation into a nearly 20-year-old case involving an alleged murder attempt.
Zhu Ling, a chemistry student at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, had been mysteriously poisoned by thallium in 1994. Although she survived, she was left brain-damaged and paralyzed. Her roommate, Sun Wei, was suspected of the crime, but was released after questioning by authorities. Many believed that her powerful political connections got her off the hook—she is related to a former Beijing mayor and is the granddaughter of a high-level politician said to be a close friend of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin.
Sun Wei reportedly fled to the United States, where she changed her name to Jasmine Sun. Petitioners want Sun extradited to China.
More than 138,000 people have signed the petition, whose launch last Friday was triggered by news of a strikingly similar college poisoning case that occurred last month at Fudan University in Shanghai. Official White House policy states that once a petition receives 100,000 supporters, President Barack Obama has pledged to comment on it. So far, he has not.
A California-based fundraising foundation for Zhu—established by a former UCLA medical student who had helped to treat Zhu after she was poisoned—claimed the petition is filled with “hasty,” factual errors. “Foreign political intervention might impede the solving of the case,” the foundation said in a statement.
The poisoning case is not the only topic the Chinese are pushing on We the People.
As of Wednesday morning, five of the six latest petitions on the White House-created website were related to China, with issues ranging from serious issues, such as pollution, to satiric ones, such as the best preparation of tofu.
The White House petition site has become a popular Internet destination for Chinese citizens, who have been increasingly turning to social media as an outlet to expose corruption and seek justice. Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, reportedly set up a special account for President Obama, giving him the title “director of the Central Petitions Office.”
As far as the Zhu Ling poisoning case goes, an editorial in Tuesday’s English edition of The Global Times—which serves as an indirect mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party—wrote: “We believe that officials should come forward to respond to Zhu’s case and satisfy the public via information disclosure. The White House cannot be the foreign ‘petition office’ of China. However, embarrassments in the Internet age need not be covered up. We have our problems, and we will do our best to solve them.”
-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
The 20-Year-Old Crime That’s Blowing Up on Chinese Social Media (by Emily Parker, New Republic)
Chinese Petition White House in Unsolved Poison Case (by Dexter Roberts, Bloomberg Businessweek)
Cold Case Petition Grabs US Attention (by Chen Tian, Global Times)
Chinese Poison Mystery Linked With America’s First Amendment (by Cassie Ryan, Epoch Times)
The Qinghua Girls Thallium Poisoning Continue to Simmer (Epoch Times) (Chinese)
We the People (The White House)
10 Most Popular Unanswered Petitions to the White House (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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