Almost half a year after suing local authorities for sending her to a labor camp to keep her from petitioning for justice, Tang Hui, also known as the "petitioning mother," finally won her appeal on July 15 in a case against the Yongzhou labor camp authorities in Hunan province, south-central China.
According to China's state-run media, the Hunan Provincial People's High Court in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, has ordered the Yongzhou labor camp authorities to pay Tang -- who had petitioned for justice for her 11-year-old daughter after the girl was raped by seven men -- 2,941 RMB (about US $478) for "infringing upon [Tang's] personal freedoms" and "causing mental damage" during her nine-day detention in the labor camp.
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Earlier this year, a lower court dismissed Tang's request for compensation because it claimed she had been upsetting social stability through her petitioning.
Although the success of Tang's appeal should not have been a surprise given existing law, as one of Tang's lawyer's, Pu Zhiqiang, pointed out, it still came as a surprise to many who were following the case. Even in the eyes of a vice-chief of a local court in Hubei province, who chose to remain anonymous, Tang's chances of winning her case were slim based on public documents provided by the Yongzhou labor camp authorities. "The result of this case is due in large part to the fact that the re-education through labor system is about to be abolished, and the high court has also taken Tang's sufferings into consideration," the vice-chief noted.
Perhaps that is why the ruling was widely welcomed by Chinese domestic media, who commented that it meant much to both Tang herself and to everyone affected by the re-education through labor, or laojiao, system. The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, wrote on its verified Sina Weibo account, "Though Tang's demand for a written apology was not upheld, and the compensation was just symbolic, the final verdict at least offered [positive] feedback [to Tang Hui]."
However, reactions were more lukewarm among China's Internet users, as microblogger @平菇爱豆腐 said, "I just feel sad. To me, the ruling is just the way things should be, but now it is treated like a huge success. What a 'harmonious' society!"
In fact, instead of paying tribute to the Hunan High Court's decision, most Chinese Internet users have expressed disappointment that the court denied Tang's demand for a written apology. User @朱中华律师-国际工程律师 wrote, "Apologizing in court instead of publicly is inappropriate. It's not like you're doing something wrong, why would you need to cover it up? [But] in order to counteract the effect on the victim and to show sincerity, [relevant authorities] should make a public apology via the media."
Other responses went further. User @风无形QQ remarked, "As far as I am concerned, Tang Hui did not win her case, as her request for a written apology was denied. Even if it could be called a success, I would say the price she paid was too high." User @淡出江湖2950280303 wrote, "Tang's victory is no cause for happiness. The government is willing to spend 10,000 RMB on 'stability maintenance,' but not to offer an apology to a suffering mother. The 2,000 RMB was more like charity than compensation."
Tang was originally sentenced to 18 months of re-education through labor at a camp in Yongzhou last year for repeatedly campaigning for harsher punishments against the seven men who kidnapped, raped, and forced her then 11-year-old daughter into prostitution. Local authorities argued that her petitioning was "causing serious disruption to the workplace and social order, and having devastating social influence." After her sentencing led to public backlash, the local authorities released Tang one week after she was sent to the labor camp .
At that time, Tang's release gave hope to many Chinese people following the case that public opinion could make a difference and that the laojiao system might indeed be facing abolition. Yet the ruling by Hunan's High Court has not inspired such hope this time around.
Some people believed that Tang's victory highlights "the imperfections within the system." As Jiang Jianxiang, the head of the Yongzhou Re-education Through Labor Committee, stated, Tang's verdict does not mean that the laojiao system or the local authorities' decision to sentence Tang to a labor camp were illegal. The case may not be any indication that the notorious laojiao system is coming to an end.
For Tang Hui herself however, the verdict was not dramatic, joyful, or regrettable, and it did not have much to do with the laojiao system or other big-picture issues. After years of petitioning and campaigning for justice for her daughter, the 40-year-old mother simply viewed it as an end to her petitioning journey and a chance to "return to life as an ordinary person," saying: "I finally won the case after years of petitioning; it was too exhausting."
It has never been about the money. It was just that what she needed to do as well as those who surrounded her required money. In her later pursuits, Tang had no choice. She would have chosen a normal life if she could have, so those who are following Tang's case and surrounding her please leave Tang alone, let her choose for herself and figure out what she really wants
This post also appears at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.