When Chinese Web users flooded the White House's public petitions site last week, one of them, a young woman who works in finance in the city of Chengdu, had a serious request. Her petition, which you can still see online, asked the Obama administration for its help in drawing attention to a planned petrochemical plant near her. "Environmental risk above is so big, need to reassess safety," she wrote.
Now, police appear to be going after the woman who petitioned the White House, as well. Though the petition has been anonymous, security agents found her at home and asked her to delete the post, apparently unaware that WhiteHouse.gov does not allow users to withdraw petitions. "I am scared," the woman wrote on her social media account.
Petitioning is a sensitive subject in China. According to a centuries-old tradition dating to the feudal era, Chinese citizens unhappy with their local leadership could travel to Beijing to petition the emperor, asking him to intervene. Technically, this is still allowed in China, but it's heavily discouraged. Despite the pressure, though, citizens regularly trek from interior cities and villages to Beijing, where a government office formally accepts petitions, though they rarely if ever do much more than enrage provincial officials.
That sensitivity may help explain the Chengu authorities' reaction to the White House petition.