In all Chinese cities, local authorities consider it an important political task to intercept petitioners who appeal to the central government to address their grievances. They frequently travel to Beijing, the seat of the Communist Party government, to get their voices heard.
But amid the latest resurgence of the CCP virus, Chinese officials are getting even more fanatical about handling this task, because they may face serious punishment if any of the petitioners “import” the virus to Beijing.
Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, has become a virus hotspot since early January. The city is 200 miles south of Beijing.
Confidential documents obtained by The Epoch Times reveal that city authorities have tightened their “social stability” measures to keep track of petitioners. Every petitioner is to be monitored around the clock, and some “key members” are monitored by five people.
Chinese citizens who become petitioners are usually victims of forced land acquisitions, fake or faulty vaccines, investment fraud, or other types of alleged mistreatment. They often organize themselves into groups to travel together to Beijing. For their petitioning efforts, they are frequently harassed and arrested by police officers or petition office personnel.
The first COVID-19 patient in the latest outbreak in Shijiazhuang was confirmed by authorities on Jan. 2. In the following days, more and more cases were reported. On Jan. 6, the Shijiazhuang petition office issued an internal document announcing new control measures directed at petitioners.
“Key members who often go to Beijing to appeal are the priority of our social stability work. Each of them shall be monitored by five people. We must make sure they are within sight 24 hours a day, so that they have no chance to escape and go to Beijing,” the document stated. Maintaining “social stability” is a euphemism used by authorities to mean stifling dissent.
The second priority for authorities’ monitoring are victims of two local class-action lawsuits—those who lost their investment in a local crowdfunding scheme and on the Qingyidai peer-to-peer lending platform.
According to the document, each victim is to be monitored by two staff members. In case any of the target petitioners go missing, staff from the petition office are ordered to “coordinate all available resources and go all out to locate them and be sure to get them back to Shijiazhuang city.”
Zhuoda Crowdfunding Lawsuit
Zhuoda is a real estate developer based in Hebei. As early as 2015, Chinese state media questioned the company’s high yield investment products, saying they were too good to be true.
For instance, according to China’s news portal Sina, one of Zhuoda products, called Sun City wealth management project, was linked to a new high-rise development called Sun City. Zhuoda claimed that investment amounts between 100,000 to one million yuan ($15,500 to $155,000) could be reclaimed after four years, along with a Sun City apartment of equal value. Most other products by Zhuoda offered an annual return of 20 to 30 percent.
Although Zhuoda was a private company, it was a local real estate giant and its financial products have been endorsed by both central and local governments.
“Zhuoda is the developer of many residential high-rises and business centers in Shijiazhuang. These investors in the city have seen Zhuoda’s real estate projects everywhere. They would think it’s impossible that one day this developer could suddenly disappear and breach its contract,” an insider told the Beijing Times.
Many investors put their life savings into Zhuoda’s investment projects. According to Chinese state media, the company raised nearly 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) from more than 400,000 investors.
The crash came in May 2019 when Zhuoda’s actual controllers, Yang Zhuoshu and Yang Hanqing, a father-and-son team, surrendered themselves to the police, admitting that they were involved in illegal “absorption” of public deposits.
The investors first attempted to file lawsuits against Zhuoda, but none of the local courts agreed to accept the cases. When they tried to go to Beijing to appeal, they were detained and reprimanded by local authorities.
The internal document issued on Jan. 6 showed that authorities are now sending two people to monitor each Zhuoda-related petitioner, to prevent them from traveling to Beijing.
In another internal document obtained by The Epoch Times dated Dec. 29, 2020, the Shijiazhuang petition office also noted that it should punish a Zuoda investment victim surnamed Gu, for organizing a group petition. The document said staff should also carry out “ideological education” for Gu and forbid him from participating in group gatherings. Staff should also be able to reach Gu 24 hours a day.
In a leaked document titled “Psychological Analysis of Zhuoda Investors,” authorities categorized investors based on whether they were willing to absorb the losses or whether they were determined to fight to the end.
For instance, the document identified an investor named Zhao Jinsu as a key target for “stability control.” Zhao invested one million yuan ($155,000) in Zhuoda’s wealth products. In the end, his investment had dwindled down to 277,000 yuan ($42,826). For an average Chinese middle-class family, Zhao’s loss was tremendous.
According to the Jan. 6 document, Zhao would now be monitored by five people around the clock. And for Mr. Gu, who organized a group petition in December, the number of staff would be increased from two to five people.
Gu Qing’er contributed to this report.