But the petitioning system had a near-perfect record of failure, a truth Long and her parents would find out for themselves.
The parents wore dust masks to avoid being recognized and trailed behind their daughter to further confuse her followers. They coached Long on how to avoid the freelance "interceptors" engaged by the city and provincial governments to kidnap petitioners before they can lodge complaints at one of several central "Letters and Visits" offices. A huge, lucrative extralegal security apparatus has grown alongside Beijing's campaign for stability preservation. A parallel bribery network also exists to cancel complaints of petitioners who do get through. "If petitioners manage to get their cases registered … the responsible local government attempts to erase the registration by networking and bribing relevant senior officials, because the record of local petition can jeopardize their political career," wrote Juan Wang, a researcher at Griffith University, in a paper delivered last year to a conference on stability preservation at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Long said she spent more than two years moving among the unregistered hostels that exist in Beijing basements and do not ask for registration documents. On the rare occasions when she was able to evade the police and freelance interceptors, she registered her complaint at the Letters and Visits offices attached to the State Council, the Supreme People's Court, and other important central departments. Like nearly all petitioners, she never heard a response.
The interceptors, hired by Guizhou province and Liupanshui municipality, knew her well. They were trained to monitor arriving trains and buses and patrol the access routes to petitioning destinations, working cooperatively with police to hand her over to the retrievers, but unlike with ordinary petitioners whose parents are not senior officials, they rarely detained her for long. "Most black jails I went to were small, dirty houses in faraway and unknown places," she says. "But I never stayed a night." The child of senior Guizhou officials petitioning in Beijing is rare; indeed, Long may be the only one in modern history. She says her mother was gradually sidelined from meaningful duties in her internal intelligence work. Subordinates who worked for her stepfather told me that he was investigated for corruption after Long's allegations against Zhou and was effectively sidelined prior to his official retirement, though there was no official notice. Despite all this, Long persevered, though she was frequently escorted out of Beijing and back to Guizhou by authorities. Yet she kept making her way back to Beijing to recommence the ritual. "She really did like petitioning," said Ding Xinjun, head of Liupanshui's foreign affairs department, with a nervous laugh. Zhou, it seems, was too powerful to be brought down, but so was Long.
And today? A Guiyang city policeman who had handled the rape investigation, surnamed Yu, told Foreign Policy that the ongoing case is being managed at the provincial level. But an official at the Guizhou provincial Public Security Bureau who had handled the case, Deng Jun, said inquiries should be directed to Liupanshui. Ding, at the city's foreign affairs department, initially said the case had already been resolved in court, before backpedaling without further explanation. The Politics and Law Committee, which oversees the provincial police and courts, said to talk with "Letters and Visits," without specifying which one.