Chinese officials use hotlines to take the public’s pulse

IN 1375 a secretary in the justice department wrote a long petition to the Ming emperor. Bored by the endless preamble, the Son of Heaven had the functionary dragged to the court and flogged. That night he read to the end of the petition and discovered four sensible proposals crammed into its final page. He ordered them to be enacted the next day.

Xi Jinping, China’s president, is less attentive to petitions (called “memorials to the throne” in imperial times) than was his Ming predecessor. China still has bureaus where citizens can appeal against official injustice, but the government discourages people from using them. It often locks up those who try, putting them in “black jails” without trial. But if appeals to the emperor now fall on deaf ears, humbler forums for complaint are encouraged. The two main ones are known as “mayor’s mailboxes” and “12345 hotlines”.

There are mayor’s mailboxes on the websites of every municipal government, usually indicated by a button next to a biography of the official with an exhortation to “write me a letter” (or, in practice, send an e-mail). The hotlines allow people to be put…Continue reading

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