The annual National People’s Congress has been on in Beijing, and the skies are a remarkable blue compared to the black of the last few months, leading to murmurs of this being too much of a coincidence. Drastic policy changes have been announced at this meet of legislators and advisors, all in the same direction, that of ‘reform’. The ministry of railways, as important here as in India, has been shut down. The ministry of transport will oversee its regulatory side; but operations will be run by a State-owned corporation, and private players will be welcome.
There’s been a strong pitch for the cutting down of public hospitals and promoting private hospitals, as also for public-private partnership in education. The one-child policy remains, the only concession being couples in five provinces can now have a second child if both parents are themselves single children. This rule was applicable only in Shanghai. Finally, it has been made clear that Western models of governance will not be adopted.
This year, 83 billionaires are members of the NPC and its advisory body. The number of female delegates has increased, but it’s nowhere near fulfilling Mao’s dictum, “Women hold up half the sky”. Apparently, some women delegates feel Mao was wrong. Opposing the idea of 50 per cent reservation of seats for women, they said men worked harder. But there are some positive signs coming out from this year’s meet. Reportedly, 13.42 per cent of the legislators are migrant workers and farmers. They range from sea-food breeders to textile workers. The youngest is a 24-year-old Uygur, who brought hand-written proposals in her own language, which had to be translated into Mandarin. Her proposals focused on improving living conditions in the remote mountainous areas of her province.
A variety of concerns have been raised by the delegates, from the need for the regulation of video games to a second sports channel. Interestingly, unlike our MPs and MLAs, many of the legislators hold full-time jobs, and the issues raised by them concern everyday life. A farmer delegate wanted a law which would encourage the consumption of unpolished rice. Not only is it more nutritious, but also less wasteful — 20 per cent of the rice gets wasted in the polishing process. A police instructor revealed on an online question-answer session that a policeman a day had died between 2006 and 2010. There were only 12 policemen for every 10,000 citizens, he said. A national insurance plan for policemen working at the “frontline” would help, said another policeman-legislator.
A migrant worker, who works in a foot massage parlour, raised the issue of “temporary marriages” among migrant workers that have become a new trend, thanks to families being left behind in the villages. She urged that hukou or household registration rules be eased to enable migrants’ families to join them in the city. The same demand was made by a security guard, who fretted over the number of grandparents left behind in the villages. Even the outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao, spoke of the need to hasten hukou reform.
Perhaps the most startling topic to emerge at the Congress was the legalizing of gay marriages. A letter sent by the China chapter of the international Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays spoke about the problems faced by their children. Despite being in steady relationships and living together, they could not sign consent forms for medical procedures, adopt or inherit each other’s property.
This year’s Congress saw some small but telling changes. In keeping with the new party chairman’s emphasis on frugality, the practice of presenting bouquets to delegates on arrival, keeping flowers in hotel rooms, and providing police escorts for them were dropped.