Tang Hui, the mother of an underage rape victim from Yongzhou, Hunan Province, was released from a reeducation-through-labor center on Friday.
The result is unsurprising, especially considering the public backlash against the Yongzhou public security bureau's decision to send Tang to a labor camp for reeducation because of her petitioning. It was responded to appropriately, with Hunan authorities reinvestigating her case.
In another case, strong public opinion helped resolve a business suspension crisis in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, by paving the way for a swift policy adjustment by local authorities.
Recently, China has seen a growing number of cases in which public opinions have triggered authorities to change their decisions. In other words, a "model" has emerged in which actions by the public lead to errors being corrected by the local government.
It's these individual cases that result in reforms from the bottom up. It's not a change of the system, but more of a redefining of the boundary of rights and subtle change to relations between authorities and people at the grass-roots level. It reflects the rise of citizens' power as well as the awareness of their obligations, and a fundamental change in the relations between "ordinary people" and "government officials."
Such force from the bottom up has become one of the drivers pushing China forward. So far, the emergence of such force has always led to positive results. Related cases in Shifang, Qidong, Yongzhou, and Shenyang have all prompted local government officials to reflect on their policies and their behavior.
But we also need to realize such force has its limits. It can risk turning people's specific pursuits for their livelihood issues into political rivalries that damage society.
Reform from the top down must speed up to respond to the force from the bottom up. Rather than institutional reform, compromises from the government in cases mentioned above were largely for achieving a peaceful solution.
Besides strengthening communication and building more effective supervision mechanisms, creating more opportunities for exchanges between different levels of society is important.
It has become a natural trend for officials to break down the hierarchy and feel the pulse of grass-roots interests. They either take the initiative to do this or are pressured to by the public.
China needs to have opinion leaders in the public sphere who are influential with a strong sense of social responsibility. This allows the force from the bottom up to be equipped with an ability to control itself from becoming too extreme and ultimately push forward reforms effectively.
The Hunan Provincial Reeducation-through-labor Management Committee on Friday overturned its 18-month sentence for petitioner Tang Hui, whose daughter was kidnapped, raped and forced into prostitution six years ago.