Katharina Hesse is a Beijing-based photographer who has worked throughout Asia for nearly two decades. Her work primarily focuses on China’s social concerns, among them youth and urban culture, religion and North Korean refugees.
In this photograph, petitioners from the countryside in China hold out copies of their legal cases. In the past decades, hundreds of thousands of Chinese from the provinces have descended upon Beijing in hopes of attracting attention from higher authorities regarding their civil law cases. These cases vary from work accidents, violence against family members, murder, extortion, and the majority of them stem from a corrupt rural legal system. The tradition of petitioning to higher authorities in the Chinese capital reaches back to Imperial times. Outside the city center of Beijing, petitioners’ villages have sprung up, as those seeking justice face long delays in being heard. The petitioners face tremendous obstacles in having their cases heard including overworked authorities, lack of legal aid and police trying to prevent the cases from being brought.
The Allard Prize Photography Competition jury selected this photograph as it reflects the importance of upholding the Rule of Law and ensuring societies are governed by a transparent and non-corrupt legal system.