BEIJING -- When Liu Jianzhong last saw his wife, Ma Huimei, she was wearing handcuffs and a uniform that identified her as an inmate at the Fangshan detention center. A line of police stood between them..
Ma and six co-defendants were charged with taking part in a series of protests against the head of their village, who they claimed had enriched himself through corrupt land deals and then tried to steal an election in 2010.
Liu hadnt been allowed to visit his wife since police took her away in the dark early morning hours of August 20, 2010, according to his account. His chances to catch a glimpse of her came at court appearances such as the one last month in a courthouse at Beijings southwestern suburbs. Liu looked at his 52-year-old wife, and the tired face and gray hairs that detention had given her, and tried to think of what to say.
I told her to believe in herself because at no time did she commit a crime, said Liu, 53, whod closed the restaurant they owned after Ma disappeared into the hands of Chinese security; after more than 20 years of marriage, it was hard getting along without her. She said that she believed the law would prove her innocence. I said the same. . . . They would not let us say much.
In the machinery of law and governance set up by the Chinese Communist Party, the misfortunes of Ma Huimei are unexceptional. But theres a growing sense that the risks of not revamping the system that ensnared her are rising for the Communist Party and its desires to maintain social stability.
As the party readies for a once-a-decade changeover of national leadership, scheduled to start with a congress that opens Nov. 8, speculation has spread over whether and to what extent the new administration may introduce change.
The nations state council earlier this month released a treatise on judicial innovations about 12,000 words when translated to English that described recent advances and called for more to come. And China-watchers took note when a state news item last week described Politburo plans to amend the party constitution without references to Mao Zedong, an omission that could portend shifting preferences in the capital.
Its not known, however, what any of it will add up to. When Chinas outgoing president, Hu Jintao, began his term in 2002, he was described in terms very similar to those now used for his successor in waiting, Xi Jinping: a man whose personal views were vague to the outside world, but who was seen as being interested in reform.
A decade later, though, the party governs much as it did then. Meanwhile, disquiet about issues such as official corruption and a fundamental lack of social fairness has grown graver.
Many observers wonder how far the Chinese Communist Party can push serious reform, given the extent to which corrupt officials are thought to shield one another and their shared financial interests. Its often the partys own absolute hold on power, and the resulting lack of public accountability that enables, that appears to stand in the way of change.
In the village of Raolefu, for example, the problems stemmed not from having elections, but from accusations that a Communist Party secretary was trying to derail one.
'STEALING' AN ELECTION
In the darkness of the night on July 27, 2010, a voice rose from the courtyard of the village committee building: Move! Move! Move! As that command rang out, a man was handing a box of votes through a guardrail to a waiting contingent of police officers ready to push their way past a scrum of agitated villagers.