Up until recently, people who had disputes with their local governments and didn't trust them to resolve their issues properly would have to make the pilgrimage to Beijing and hope officials in the capital would hear their case.
However, they became so numerous and vocal that allegedly the government began creating "black jails", putting petitioners in there so they wouldn't have a chance to plead their cases.
Then these "black jails", some were low-rated hotels in the outskirts in the Beijing, were getting too full and provincial officials would hire people to stop petitioners from even leaving their respective provinces.
Senior government officials later urged local authorities in every province, county and city to set aside one day to deal with disputes, but not much has been reported if this has effectively eased the situation or not.
Now the government is taking things into its own hands by sending out its own crew of legal officials to hear complaints in the provinces across the country. This is a way to ban petitioners from coming to Beijing.
Also the complaints can also be filed online with a response given within 60 days. Most of the cases involve confiscating land, not enough compensation for land, police abuse or legal abuses.
While filing online would be more systematic, most of the petitioners do not have much education, let alone a computer. They clutch bundles of papers that supposedly prove their case and that's all they have along with a strong dose of determination to fight for justice.
The increased number of petitioners is embarrassing for President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao whose mantra is a "harmonious society". It shows the immense lack of distrust in the government and people's growing sense of legal rights.
With the upcoming 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China coming up in October, the need to show all is well in the Middle Kingdom is even greater.