It seems that when local governments in China find themselves in a bind of their own making--through corruption, abuse of power, etc.-- they intentionally push things to the point of crisis, hoping that Beijing will privilige "stability" over the rule of law.
In Chen's case , the bulletproof jacket wearing-official Huang Jin'gao's case and the Taishi Village recall campaign , the central government gave some kind of nod early on--a People's Daily editorial, say--to grassroots rights activists. Then the village or township government, faced with investigations and sackings from Beijing and feeling that they had nothing to lose, escalated the local problem into a fullblown "incident."
When an "incident" rears its head, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao tend to step back and allow the village despots, cops and hired thugs to straighten things up. They forgive the original official infraction that gave rise to the "incident", believing that pursuing justice will only encourage more instability. And they put off "rule of law" until another day.