Plot Synopsis

  • WARNING: Spoilers

    The dysfunctional Chinese justice system allows citizens with grievances against their local governments to petition the court to clear or correct their record. Yet in order to do so, the petitioners must travel to Beijing to file paperwork and wait an indefinite period to plead their case. Even when they get a favorable ruling, they are often at the mercy of local officials to follow the ruling, and may have to petition again to get the ruling upheld. The large majority of petitioners are impoverished villagers who travel far to the capital and typically end up waiting desperately in decrepit shantytowns for their cases to be settled. Often they are chased and pressured to return home by thugs hired by local governments to dissuade the petitioners, lest the municipality get a bad name for corruption. Following the saga of a group of petitioners over the years of 1996 and 2008, Petition unfolds like a novel by Zola or Dickens. Unwilling to accept defeat and seemingly unable to do anything but wait, the petitioners enter a strange and often terrifying zone, gradually losing touch with family and friends back home and with the cruel reality of their situation. This was filmed surreptitiously from the point of view of the petitioners, and not the justice officials, the police, or those heavies sent by the municipalities. And the film, but not the story largely ends when the petitioner's village is destroyed to make way for a new train station in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.