Appealing to Higher Authorities Today and in History
(Clearwisdom.net) In ancient China, a pole with a horizontal wooden plate was erected at a meeting place for people to write on and give their opinion or appeal to the public and the government. This was done to allow citizens to express their sentiments to higher authorities, and it also acted in a supervisory role. This structure gradually evolved into today's engraved pillars in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Throughout different dynasties in China, petitions were made to relate peoples' sentiments to higher authorities. Within certain limits, the petitions contributed to positive changes in society. In Chinese history, a large group of students can be seen appealing to the government, such as the Imperial College Student Movements during the Eastern Han and Southern Song Dynasties. The Donglin Party of the late Ming Dynasty was active in learning and discussing state affairs, similar to appealing to the highest authorities today. In regards to appealing or petitioning to local authorities, the number is too numerous to mention.
The petition by the Imperial College Students during the Jingkang period of the Northern Song Dynasty is an example of successfully forwarding a petition to and being accepted by the emperor. It was during the first year of Emperor Qinzong of the Song Dynasty when Jin soldiers approached Dongjing City (now known as Kaifeng). An army was sent to attack the Jin camp, but was ambushed. As a result, more than a thousand soldiers died. Emperor Qinzong listened to those who opposed the war and fired his defense minister, Li Gang, and general, Zhong Shidao. An imperial college student, Chen Dong, along with hundreds of other students went to the front door of the palace to appeal to the emperor. They asked the emperor to reinstate Li Gang and Zhong Shidao and punish Li Bangyan and Bai Shizhong instead, since they were considered traitors. When the citizens in Dongjing heard about the students' action, tens of thousands of them went to support the students. Emperor Qinzong sent a messenger to tell the students, "Li's battle plan was a failure. Hence, I had to fire him. However, after the Jin soldiers retreat, I shall reinstate him." The students and the citizens didn't accept the Emperor's decision. They continued beating the drum used to make appeals to the emperor. The sound of protest was so loud that the ground seemed to shake. The emperor finally announced that he had reinstated Li and Zhong and the crowd dispersed.
In today's civilized society, citizens have freedom of speech. Protesting/appealing to higher authorities is a legal way to express one's opinion. In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to protest the state of Alabama blocking blacks from voting. Then governor of Alabama tried to prevent the march, declaring that the march would be a threat to public safety, but a judge ruled in favor of the First Amendment and allowed the march to occur.
In a democratic society, most "appeals" to government departments generally have a procedure to follow and are coordinated with local representatives. They don't draw a lot of attention from the public. However, what draws people's attention are protests in front of buildings of government leaders, such as Zhongnanhai in Beijing, the White House in Washington D.C., or the European Union Headquarters in Brussels. The protest in front of the European Union Headquarters by 2400 milk producers on October 5, 2009 received a lot of media coverage.
The protests or appeals mentioned above were targeted at government agencies. No matter how the protests impact society, as long as the protesters don't break any laws, they are not punished or suppressed in a free society.
By comparison, in China today, protesters or appealers are punished for exercising their basic rights. On April 25, 1999, ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners went to Fuyou Street near Zhongnanhai to appeal to higher authorities. The procession was orderly and quiet, the police didn't have to do anything, and traffic was not affected. The practitioners were appealing for the release of their fellow practitioners held by authorities in Tianjin City, and for the right to practice Falun Gong. Several months after the appeal, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began its brutal persecution of Falun Gong. Although the persecution is still continuing eleven years later, practitioners have remained peaceful in face of violent torture, harassment, illegal detention, and arrests.