Obama, minister of China petitions?

One of the hottest topics on Sina Weibo today was a petition submitted through the official petition site of the US White House for action in the case of Zhu Ling (朱令), a Chinese national who was the victim of an unsolved poisoning case dating back to 1994.

The online petition, made through the Obama administration’s “We the People” platform, alleges that Zhu Ling’s former Tsinghua roommate, Sun Wei (possibly known now as “Jasmine Sun”), had both motive and opportunity to poison her roommate. It asks that Sun, who some believe now resides in the United States, be deported and face investigation.

The petition for the deportation of Sun Wei received more than 107,000 signatures by 8:30pm today. According to the terms and conditions of the service, the petition has now reached the required “signature threshold” (100,000 signatures within 30 days) and should receive a response from the White House.

Zhu Ling was a chemistry student at Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 1994 when she was poisoned by thallium. She survived but remained paralyzed. Her case drew fresh attention in April this year following the poisoning death of Huang Yang, a graduate student at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

With or without reason, the Zhu Ling case has fueled the sense among some Chinese that government officials are above the law. Users have alleged on social media that Sun Wei escaped prosecution in the 1990s because she had powerful family connections — but neither allegation (concerning Sun’s role in the investigation or her family connections) has been substantiated.

The White House petition in the Zhu Ling case has drawn a great deal of interest on Chinese social media. As of Monday night, there were 1.46 million discussions involving the “Zhu Ling” hashtag on Sina Weibo, including 187,000 in the past week and 67,000 in the past 24 hours.

Users have predictably made light of the fact that Chinese have turned to an American petition site seeking justice that, some say, is impossible at home.

Luo Changping (罗昌平), an editor at Caijing magazine, wrote on Sina Weibo yesterday that “the White House website has become the official Bureau of Letters and Calls of the People’s Republic of China.”

Zhang Xian (张弦), a media professional in Hefei with more than 153,000 followers, wrote on Sina Weibo:

Hello, Comrade Obama, chairman of the National Office of Letters and Calls! Requests on the Zhu Ling case have already reached 100,000. We hope Chairman Obama answers the Chinese people for the sake of the autonomy of the Chinese people!

The post was accompanied by an image of Obama wearing the traditional Chinese revolutionary garb, with a red arm band reading “Guard.” The US president is standing before a crowd of Chinese wielding copies of Mao’s “little red book” in front of the Great Hall of the People.

A number of search terms, including “Zhu Ling” and “Sun Wei,” were blocked on Weibo earlier today. They had been unblocked by afternoon, however.

In a post shared more than 4,000 times by Monday night, Wang Ran (王冉), the founder of China eCapital Corporation, with just under three million Weibo followers, wrote:

“Zhu Ling” can now be searched [on Weibo]. There is no way for us to know how exactly the winds changed. But one thing is clear: the screening of searches about her ran up against the basic threshold of conscience in our society. There are more and more cases in China of blockings and deletions drawing more fire, having exactly the opposite result of that intended. I hope we can move quickly from here along the long road to becoming a nation of rule of law.

UPDATE, May 8, 2013: The following image of Obama in the Oval Office, which has become the Chinese petitions office, was posted to Sina Weibo today.

The following is a screenshot of a post by former Google China chief Kaifu Lee (who has more than 40 million Weibo followers) sharing the above image. “Welcome, Chairman O!” Lee writes.

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