BEIJING — The Chinese people would like President Obama to stop an oil refinery from being built in southern China, endorse sweet-flavored tofu and reopen an 18-year-old criminal probe of a poisoning case. And while he's at it, if he wouldn't mind mobilizing U.S. troops to liberate Hong Kong, as well as China as a whole, that would be great, too.
In a strange and diplomatically awkward turn of events, Chinese citizens have flocked to the White House's website over the past week to lodge formal petitions, many of them directed against their government. Some are deadly serious, others frivolous and funny. A few have a touch of both.
Some of the signatures — more than 168,000 total on the various petitions as of Thursday — were undoubtedly posted in jest, but many more, Chinese online users say, reflect a sincere sense of powerlessness among people frustrated with their leaders' repressive style of governance.
So as the link to the White House petition website went viral this week on Weibo microblogs — the Chinese equivalent of Twitter — all that pent-up frustration found sudden release.
The case that jump-started the fad was an unsolved attack almost two decades ago on a college student named Zhu Ling. In 1995, Zhu was left severely disabled after a suspected thallium poisoning.
But it didn't take long for the petitions to devolve into the absurd.
On Thursday, as some petitioners called for a U.S. ban on Beijing fried pancakes, some bloggers tweeted worries that the White House might start filtering their complaints, as China's government has done for so long, despite the White House website's familiarity with frivolous complaints.
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