July 2018, Issue 80, pp. 130-149
Abstract: Drawing on empirical data collected from petitioners in Chinese courts, this article analyzes how the regime’s political concern for social stability transforms petitioners’ disputes and shapes the evolution of their legal consciousness. Compared with first time petitioners, who often address their complaints within a legal paradigm, the veteran petitioners take advantage of the judges’ political concern for social stability and present their disputes as potentially threatening social stability. They hold the judiciary responsible for their plight; they petition courts during “sensitive periods”; they employ innovative tactics to draw official attention; and they seek to secure government stability-maintenance funds as a substitute for legal remedies. However, in framing a legal dispute as a political problem, the veteran petitioners risk retaliation. This article’s analysis provides insights into the operation of the court petition system, how the legal consciousness of Chinese petitioners evolves, and how in the petitioners’ eyes the legitimacy of the legal system gets eroded.