China's Quest for Justice

Watching the lawyer Chen Bulei argue his case, it was easy to forget that he was almost certain to lose. Pacing confidently before a packed courtroom in the northeastern Chinese city of Haicheng earlier this year, he scored rhetorical points so deftly that sympathetic onlookers pumped their fists like fans at a sporting event. Chen's client, a 56-year-old talc miner named Zhao Jitian, was on trial for "assembling a mob to disrupt social order"—a politically charged criminal offense often invoked to silence Chinese citizens who band together to air grievances against their employers or the government. Police in Haicheng had arrested...

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