By CHUN GE
Spring Festival Correspondent
BEIJING (China Daily Show) – Zhang Lu did not have to wait long.
Standing in Tiananmen Square with a giant placard reading ‘Shandong government, give me back my land,’ it took just thirty seconds for a team of plainclothes police officers to arrive offering assistance.
Two hours later, Zhang was on a train enjoying a hearty meal, paid for by the guard escorting him home. Yet the 28-year-old migrant worker was delighted. For the first time in years, he’d secured a ticket home for Chinese New Year – and he hadn’t had to pay for it either. “I don’t even own any land,” he grinned.
Zhang’s tale is not an untypical one. In a country whose continuing obsession with the annual Spring Festival get-together has become a source of untold misery for those unable to find an affordable handrail home, more and more workers are exploiting the government’s obsession with stability to score a free handrail back.
The situation is at breaking point, experts warn. Bosses frequently withhold vital wages – or abscond with payrolls – after construction jobs finish. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transport’s recent introduction of an online booking system, requiring real-name registration, has simply made scalpers’ jobs easier: few of China’s nearly half-billion web users are minimum-wage laborers.
Posing as a petitioner, though, virtually guarantees an instantaneous journey to the provinces, courtesy of the central government.
Petitioning – the official airing of grievances, often by traveling to the capital to plead a case in person – is an archaic, judicial last-resort in China, designed to side-step its skewed court system and offer possible redress to the wronged. In fact, however, it often results in plaintiffs being kidnapped and sent home – and for many migrant workers, that’s the ideal result.
“It was probably worth it,” said Jie, an avuncular grandmother who works as a traditional Chinese dentist in Beijing, touching the numerous bruises on her face. Jie gave up hope after queuing at a train station for three days without success. A friend suggested she saunter through Xidan wearing a ‘Free Wukan’ T-shirt.
“I got the usual sustained beating and lost a couple of teeth – but there’s no other way I could have gotten any standing room to Changsha this late in the day,” Jie mused.
With the petitioning scam now simply the latest migrant craze, Jie observed, it’s already getting harder to make an impact. “Next year I’ll probably have to light myself on fire,” she sighed.
In fact, the main drawback to the scheme, says Zhang, is having to attend the festival itself.
“Since I got back to my family, I’ve only been asked two questions: how much money have you brought for us, and when are you going to get married? I’m beginning to think it wasn’t worth having my balls whipped with a car aerial for two days, after all.”
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