Skip to main content

AFI FEST 2009: Faith, Futility and Perserverance in Petition


Displaced petitioners seek justice in Petition.

Petition, a Chinese documentary shot over the course of a decade by Zhao Liang, focuses on the lives of men and women from across China that set up camp in Southern Beijing to petition the central government after they have exhausted their options with local governments. Told through interviews and footage from concealed cameras, the photo-journalistic documentary takes a rare look at Chinese bureaucracy.

These petitioner’s grievances involve everything from loss of employment to wrongful death. They relocate to Beijing and live in hastily set up camps, known as Petitioners’ Village, where they put their lives on hold. Once there, they battle poverty and agents from their local governments hoping to stop them from petitioning. The petitioners soon realize that their battle may take years to be resolved, if ever.

Though most of the petitioners come because of a perceived wrongdoing against themselves or a close family member, others come for other reasons. An elderly woman named Granny Pan is petitioning against government corruption, and has been for quite some time, despite her family’s pleas to drop the case and come home. But as Granny Pan explains, she would only come home if her petitioning wouldn’t improve her country. Her faith in what would seem to most like an exercise in futility is as frustrating as it is touching. Her petitioning is for the betterment of society and love of her country, and she seems ready to spend the remainder of her life doing it.

Petition may not be easy viewing. Many of the interviews with the petitioners reveal emotionally wrought men and women, which can be equally taxing for the viewer. Equal parts frustrating, inspiring, and humbling, these ordinary people display a profound faith and perseverance.

Petition showed at AFI FEST 2009 Nov. 5.