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China's e-petitioners crash government site on first day

Chinternet suspects Beijing has its fingers in its ears

China’s attempts to drag its centuries old petitioning system into the 21st century left Beijing rather red-faced on Monday after a web site designed for the purpose unceremoniously crashed on its first day.

The government agency which deals with petitions – the State Bureau for Letters and Calls – was subject to widespread derision on the Chinternet after the outage yesterday.

Although no official explanation was given for the crash, weibo users suspected it was due to the high number of petitioners trying to air their grievances with the government, according to Wall Street Journal.

Other social media users apparently claimed the outage shows how little Beijing actually cares about the problems of ordinary citizens.

It’s easy to be cynical in China and think that the incident was deliberate, especially, as TechInAsia pointed out, because third party anti-corruption sites have been shuttered in the past by Beijing in a clumsy attempt to muzzle criticism of the government.

However, the Party is certainly well enough versed in the ways of social media to have predicted the huge online furore resulting from an outage.

It also plays badly for new president Xi Jinping, who has made rooting out corruption in the Communist Party one of his main campaigns since coming to power.

A more realistic bet, then, is that the government simply underestimated the sheer number of petitioners – a similar mistake to that made by the British government when it launched its e-petitions site in 2011.

Petitioning has been a custom in China for centuries, dating back to the days when aggrieved folk would travel to the capital in an attempt to have their beef heard by the emperor.

However, while the White House has to respond to any petition with over 100,000 signatures, for example, there are question marks over whether the complaints of China’s citizens ever have the desired effect. ®

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