Feng Zhenghu never expected life to be easy.
The prominent economist-turned-rights-activist has made a habit of taking the ruling Chinese Communist Party to task over its treatment of the least privileged in society.
After serving a three-year jail term in 2001 for "illegal business activity," Feng became a prolific online writer and critic of alleged malpractice by local governments, especially on the issue of forced evictions.
Returning from an overseas trip in 2009, he was refused re-entry into China eight times, remaining in the immigration hall of Narita International Airport for 92 days before finally being readmitted to his home country.
Undeterred, Feng continued to speak out on behalf of petitioners, ordinary Chinese who pursue complaints about the government, often for decades and in spite of extrajudicial detentions, beatings, and other forms of mistreatment.
In 2012, the authorities detained him without legal procedure for 268 days under house arrest at his Shanghai apartment.
This treatment prompted Feng to lodge official complaints with three state prosecution offices, naming police officers from the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau along with its Yangpu District Branch and Wujiaochang Substations, and accusing them of breaking the law.
When this yielded no result, Feng sent the same letter to China's president Xi Jinping in December 2012.
Some weeks later, officers from the Wujiaochang police station paid Feng another visit, holding him in a police cell from January 7-9, 2013, searching his home, and confiscating computers and mobile phones.
Feng says his home has been turned over in 11 separate searches since he returned from Narita airport, and police have confiscated more than 800 personal possessions from him, including 17 computers.
But police have yet to return his belongings, in spite of requirements that confiscated items must be returned within 30 days.
"It was this matter that led me to bring a case to court, but one after the other, they refused to accept the case," Feng told RFA in a recent interview.
"The police refuse to make a statement or to respond to my enquiries," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Wujiaochang police station in Shanghai in July declined to comment.
"You should speak to the Yangpu district branch station," he said. "We don't know much about this."
Tens of thousands complain
Feng said he has now joined the ranks of the tens of thousands of Chinese who file complaints against the government every day across the country.
"In the past few weeks, I have been going to the State Council complaints office [in Beijing], and I've spoken to complaints officials there about it."
"They told me that it is indeed against the law for the police to act in this lawless manner, and for the judiciary to do nothing about it," he said.
"They told me to go to the state prosecution service about it."
Nearly 20,000 grievances are filed daily to complaints offices across China in person, according to official figures released last November, mostly by middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income.
Those who do pursue complaints against the government—often for forced evictions, loss of farmland, accidents, or death and mistreatment in custody—say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in "black jails" or "legal study centers," beaten, and harassed by the authorities.
'A day will come'
Feng said he fears for China's future if the courts continue to refuse to play the role for which they were designed.
"This problem of having laws but not implementing them is a serious one, I think, and if it isn't sorted out, it could become a very serious issue for the whole country," Feng said.
"This country doesn't seem to be able to resolve anything, and I don't see any hope of progress," he said.
Feng, who has himself pursued complaints against officials with seemingly endless patience in spite of overwhelming evidence that the system rarely addresses grievances, said the lack of official action will eventually further deepen popular anger against the government.
"There will be a day when this all comes to a head," he said.
Reported by Ren Ji for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.