BEIJING Responding to a fresh wave of unrest as China gears up to host the Olympics next month, the communist leadership has told local leaders to be on alert to public grievances and find ways to resolve them.
The order is the most recent in a series of calls reflecting the government's apparent concern over rising social inequality, rampant corruption and the weak legal system.
Communist Party secretaries at the county level have been told to "keep track of key public complaint cases until they are solved," the English-language China Daily newspaper said Wednesday, citing earlier reports in Chinese state media.
"The unprecedented move ... shows the central leadership is paying more attention to public complaints," the state-run paper said under the front page headline "Officials 'must treat public woes."'
As Beijing enters the final stretch before the Aug. 8-24 Olympics, the government is trying to limit complaints and demonstrations across the country that could tarnish the image of an orderly, modern nation it's been striving to achieve.
Mostly, Beijing has relied on heavy-handed tactics to suppress unrest: Petitioners bringing grievances to Beijing have been rounded up and officials have been told to thwart attempts by thousands of laid-off teachers to publicly demand pensions and other benefits.
A repressive crackdown also followed deadly anti-government rioting in Tibet and the traditionally Turkic Muslim Xinjiang region in the west.
The latest order to resolve conflicts made no mention of specific instructions on how to do so and appeared to follow an all too common trend whereby the government strives to appear responsive without exposing the party to direct criticism or making officials more accountable to the public.
Earlier this week, China Daily touted a new system to tie promotions to public review, but on close examination, the proposal promised nothing more than to annually survey 80,000 citizens, mostly low-level bureaucrats, on their level of satisfaction.
Even the official newspaper appeared to acknowledge the toothless nature of the campaign, quoting one man as saying that he hoped the campaign wouldn't be just another "temporary image-projecting" drive.
Despite the efforts to burnish China's image, unrest continues to flare.
In two recent incidents, discontent with local officials sparked mass protests. The first saw more than 30,000 people rioting last month in a town in hilly Guizhou province over what they believed was a cover-up of a teenage girl's death. Then, over the weekend, hundreds of migrant workers attacked a police station in eastern Zhejiang province after one worker was allegedly beaten while trying to get a residence permit.
Meanwhile, in the southwestern city of Deyang, hundreds of parents who lost their children in the May 12 earthquake demonstrated peacefully Tuesday to demand officials release findings of a promised investigation into the collapse of schools during temblor, a U.S.-funded radio station reported.
Corruption and shoddy construction have been widely blamed for the tragedy, but local officials have repeatedly delayed releasing the findings, offering the parents cash in return for signing pledges not to sue, according to Radio Free Asia. It said police detained 10 protesters.
Deyang officials reached by phone denied any protest occurred and refused to give their names, common practice among bureaucrats eager to avoid censure.