Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fun at the National Peoples Congress

China’s National Peoples Congress doesn’t get much respect. The un-elected parliament meets for ten days in March in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to hear mind-numbing speeches from the nation’s leaders and pass laws, usually by acclamation.

Only occasionally do any besides professional China watchers pay attention to the proceedings. Last year, the NPC made news by passing an “anti-secession law” aimed at discouraging Taiwan from declaring independence. This year’s big theme, redressing rural grievances, was kind of a yawner.

But when they are not condemning Taiwan, the delegates do debate smaller issues. And when you gather 3,000 NPC deputies and about 2,000 members of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body that meets concurrently, they are bound to come up with some interesting ideas.

This year the combined delegates tabled some 4,898 proposals, ranging from dropping Mao Zedong’s portrait from the nation’s currency to getting younger news anchors on the national television news programs to mandating edible toothpicks.

Deputy Nan Shunji of Jilin province submitted the toothpick proposal. Unsuccessful last year in getting the congress to ban use of wooden disposable chopsticks, the director of a local paper mill turned her attention to toothpicks. “We waste a lot of natural resources at the dinner table,” she said.

Indeed, most Chinese pick their teeth after meals, and collectively consume some 200 billion a year. She proposed a law requiring that they be made out of corn flour, so that they can be digested after their use -- or buried where they are easily degradable. Jilin province produces a lot of corn.

For years the picture or profile of Mao Zedong has graced the front of most of China’s bank notes. CPPCC delegate Duan Huijin proposed dropping Mao and adding Deng Xiaoping, architect of the nation’s market reforms, and Sun Yat-sen, father of the Chinese republic.

“We owe our sustained rapid economic growth and constantly rising international status over the past decades to Deng Xiaoping,” he said. “Dr. Sun has been admired by Chinese all over the world and deserves a place on the [renminbi] notes,” said Delegate Hu Zhibin.

Whether or not the Chinese change the design of their currency, they apparently have no plans to change the value. Premier Wen Jiabao told a press conference at the Congress flatly that Beijing has no plans to further revalue the yuan this year. Beijing made a small change last year.

Concerned about the growing wealth gap as it applies to population control, CPPCC Delegate Yang Kuifu wanted to impose strict birth control on the rich. Wealthy private businessmen and other celebrities find it easy to pay the “social maintenance” fee to get around the national one-child-only policy.

But simply imposing fines or administrative punishments doesn’t work anymore, Mr. Yang said. He proposed a law that would restrict personal credit for private businessmen who choose to have more than one child.

Delegate Miu Shouliang thinks that chubbiness is a sure sign of corruption, so he promoted a law regulating the weight of civil servants He figures that overweight cadres spend too much time being wined and dined at fancy restaurants. A businessman from bustling Shenzhen near Hong Kong, he probably know what he’s talking about.

Li Yinhe, a famous Chinese sociologist and member of the CPPCC advisory body, once again tried and failed to pass a law permitting same-sex marriages in China. She has proposed such legislation three years running without success.

Other proposals (hat tip to Asiapundit) would force the Chinese national television system to replace the current crop of aging news anchors with younger, fresher faces; regulate beauty contests to limit the value society places on outward appearances and ban children from acting in commercials.

Do any of these private-member proposals ever stand a chance of becoming law? Well, last year’s congress did enact a regulation prohibiting lip-synching at rock concerts. Who says the National People’s Congress proceedings are boring.

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