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Pomp... and ceremony

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James Reynolds | 08:49 UK time, Thursday, 5 March 2009

China's parliament meets only once a year - for just a few days. It's such a brief event that members of parliament line up to take souvenir photos of themselves outside the steps of the parliament building - the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square.

Photo time for China's MPs came early this morning - the first day of the 2009 parliamentary session.

Several thousand delegates were driven in coaches to Tiananmen Square. They walked up the steps of the Great Hall, took their photos, walked onto red carpets, and then into the main chamber (I was in the press section on the second tier).

Just before 9am, a military band, half-hidden in the audience, played a few bars. China's President Hu Jintao led the Politburo out onto the main stage.

The Politburo members clapped solemnly in time to the military music - it was the biggest show of emotion of the day.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao then approached the podium to deliver his annual report. Stirring oratory has played its part in Chinese history. But it appears to have no role whatsoever in communist politics.

In the Chinese Communist Party, the ideal speech is jammed with tinder-dry statistics and delivered in a solid monotone, in the manner of an earnest student delivering the results of a science project.

For more than two hours, Mr Wen read from the text of his speech. Members of parliament each had copies of the speech in front of them. When Mr Wen turned the page, there was a huge whooshing sound in the hall, as everyone in the audience did the same.

opening session of the National People

Following every single word of a two-hour speech was too much for some delegates. We saw many with their heads nodding forward and their eyes shut. In their defence, perhaps they had their eyes closed in order to focus all that much more on the speech.

This annual session of parliament goes on for eight and a half days. Don't expect any great arguments or debates. That's not how the National People's Congress works.

By and large, the delegates to China's parliament have come to Beijing to approve decisions already taken by the government.


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