Petition Chinese style
Asked why she accompanies her husband on his petitions, Noble said she does not really understand China's law.
Law professor Zhang Qin of Shantou University told the Global Times that many foreigners see Chinese law as being deeply flawed.
"When I was studying abroad 20 years ago, I found many people saw unfairness in China's law, they criticized the Chinese judiciary for its lack of independence."
"That unfairness remains, which is why they would rather go and petition Chinese-style," Zhang continued.
Every year, over 500,000 people petition authorities, and whenever a foreigner is involved, the case will stand out.
The first ever foreign petitioner is believed to be American Harvard graduate Julie Harms.
Back in 2009, 31-year-old Harms joined thousands of petitioners voicing grievances against their local government, over what she said were false charges leveled against her jailed Chinese fiancé.
Chinese netizens nicknamed her "foreign Qiu ju", the heroine of Zhang Yimou's 1992 movie The Story of Qiu Ju, the story of a pregnant peasant woman who seeks justice after the village chief kicks her husband in the groin.
Unlike Noble, Harms has a degree in international relations. She bought and studied a number of books on Chinese law, only to find that it was not much different to the law in the United States. The only difference lay in how they were enforced.
Her attorney at the time, Wu Zhijun, told the Global Times that he thinks foreigners like Harms should have used China's laws to protect their rights instead of resorting to petitioning.
"Petitioning is not the main way to protect your rights in China," Wu said. "The country is ruled by law."
However, after several rounds of failed attempts to meet Chinese officials because they were either "in a meeting" or "nowhere to be seen," Harms told the media, "I think in many places in China, the law really relies on people, relies on connections."
Case by case
Zhu Chenkang, a lawyer at Beijing Dongyuan Lawfirm, told the Global Times that whether or not the involvement of a foreign petitioner will help solve the problem depends on the individual case.
"But generally, foreigners in China enjoy preferential treatment," Zhu said.
During the process of Harms' petition, she often received invitations to sit inside and talk. She declined, and instead lined up with other Chinese petitioners.
She even walked into the United States embassy and demanded to meet President Barack Obama when he visited Beijing in 2009. She was asked to leave.
Harms' story, which was extensively reported by both American and Chinese media, seemed to have complicated the situation.
Li Xiangqian, an official of Wuhe county, was quoted by the media as saying that "Julie wanted to use her status as a foreigner to influence the case, but it is not going to work because China is not a 'slave of the foreigners' anymore."
Recently, another Chinese-style petition has landed on the doorstep of the White House itself. Due to doubts over the ability of the country's legal system to provide justice, over 127,000 Chinese have signed a petition on the White House website as of yesterday, urging the US to deport a suspect in a 19-year-old poisoning case.
In 1994, Zhu Ling, a chemistry student at Tsinghua University, was poisoned with thallium, a chemical often used in rat poison, and left paralyzed and brain-damaged.
Her roommate Sun Wei, who now allegedly lives in the US, was claimed by the petition as the major suspect.
Some Chinese netizens lamented the fact that "a country under the rule of law needs to petition other countries." Many of them are eagerly waiting to see how the White House responds to the case.
Noble said she has limited access to the Internet, and does not know what other petitioners are doing. She said she really wants to go back to London with her children.
"I told her, if you leave me in China, what can I do?" Xu asked. (From Global Times)