The Bureaucratic Nightmare Of Just Living In China

Patience is a virtue in China
Patience is a virtue in China
Na Di

BEIJING â€" How many certificates or other public documents does a Chinese citizen need through a typical lifetime? A senior official of China's Communist party recently reckoned the answer is 103.

A newborn baby changing residence needs a proof of non-criminality. A Chinese grown man who lists his mother as the emergency contact person on a form is required by the authorities to “prove your mom is your mom.” The absurd examples added up to the point that even Li Keqiang, China’s Premier, lambasted all the extra administrative paperwork as “a joke.”

All those who have wanted to become parents in China will know what a bother it is to get a Birth Permit to allow you to have a baby. But since the government started easing the One-Child policy, couples now know it’s even harder to obtain the “Permit for a Second Child.” At a minimum, it requires the following documents: the wife’s parents’ marriage certificate, identity cards and household registration; the first child’s residence registration, the permit that allowed the parents to have him or her and the birth certificate; and the parents' identity cards and household registrations.

In brief, more than 20 documents are required, including one demanding the involved parties prove that they had one child already, and that they have not adopted any other child. The papers are to be provided by the couple's respective work units (danwei). If this danwei happens not to have been involved in the parties' first marriage (they might have changed jobs and spouses since) then things are doomed to be very dramatic if any ex-spouse wants to make it difficult. No other country in the world makes it such an administrative drag to have a baby as it is in China.

Before returning home to China, Xie lived in the United States for 10 years. He notes that an American-born baby gets a Social Security Number and birth certificate rather easily, which then serve as proof for various purposes, including the father or mother-child relationship. "Yet in China, even though the One-child Certificate already clearly shows the parents' names, photos and identity card numbers, when it is required to prove the father or mother-child relationship only the household registration counts," Xie notes. "This is a total waste of time since there is already the birth certificate!”

Too much to handle

If one needs over 20 documents to welcome a child’s birth, it is at least a happy event. But to prove a family member is dead can be a double nightmare. It is common that in Chinese hospitals, crematorium and neighborhood committees still keep paper-only files, and all too often manage to lose them. When someone dies it is thus impossible to prove the identity of the deceased. "I managed to obtain a cremation certificate from the crematorium, but the neighborhood committee where my grandfather lived refused to put their stamp on the paper, because they don't have any information about the death," recounts Wang. "As a result, I can't go to the police to cancel his household registration and so I can't inherit the property he left to me."

Keep your chin up, kid. Photo: James Kim

Zhang, a Dalian police officer dealing with civil affairs, said national circumstances help explain all this bureaucracy. "Chinese people have experienced poverty-ridden times so every family has the instinct to save up as much as they can for later," said Zhang. "It is still common today that in order to continue to receive their parents' pensions, offspring do not report their deaths. And then, when the offspring does need their parents' death certificates a few years later, they can end up in big trouble."

With his experience in the U.S., Xie is convinced that ultimately it is the government mindset that creates the problems in China. "In America, the authorities expect the people to have self-discipline, whereas in China we believe that a lot of people are troublemakers and need to be strictly controlled," he said.

Recently it was reported that a young woman who passed the teacher qualification exam was required to obtain a non-criminal record certificate before getting her teacher certificate. Since she hasn't started working yet no employer was willing to endorse her non-criminal status. She then asked the neighborhood committee to help her. The neighborhood committee stated that they could not help her unless she obtained a certificate from the police. And then comes the most ridiculous moment: the police demanded that she provide proof from the education authority that she indeed needs this certificate!

"In Britain, when hiring a teacher the schools themselves will investigate any past criminal activity, credit problems, and so forth," explains Yifan, a UK-based Chinese native. "It's not up to the individual to provide a written certificate to prove they are not a criminal."

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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