Opening ceremony bows to tradition
WILLIAM KAZER in Beijing
China may be modernising at breakneck speed, embracing stock markets and technology, but the annual session of the NPC is a comforting display that some traditions remain almost untouched.
For those fearful of a rapid disappearance of a more familiar China, the opening of the nation's parliament is reassuring.
Red flags fluttered in a light breeze atop the imposing Great Hall of the People as police blocked off lanes of traffic to speed the way for the fleets of cars and buses carrying about 3,000 delegates.
Tiananmen Square was cordoned off, keeping at bay tourists, hawkers and kite-flying children who would normally be on hand on a balmy Sunday morning.
Inside the Great Hall, huge red flags bracketed the Communist Party insignia. Rows of potted plants adorned the stage and a sprinkling of ethnic-minority delegates in eye-catching native dress rounded out the decorations.
The Communist Party leadership, led by President Jiang Zemin, marched across the massive stage and took their seats before parliamentary chief Li Peng declared the session open.
Premier Zhu Rongji, standing at a podium overgrown with flowers, got down to the business at hand, delivering the work report on the accomplishments of the past year and setting out his vision of the tasks ahead.
Known as 'Boss Zhu', he occasionally paused for a sip of tea or to wipe his brow.
While Mr Zhu had no new pronouncements, his offering was more detailed. 'There was less empty talk,' said a delegate.
But this year there was a tiny concession to the winds of change sweeping the country as delegates sat down at the banks of computer terminals for a look at the government Intranet.
All sorts of useful information could be found on the computer site.
Su Xiaoqing, a delegate from Guizhou province, was tapping away at the keyboard as the Premier spoke.
'This is better than last year,' she said of the government site. 'I have a computer at home and I'm really interested in the Internet.' Even Mr Jiang took a brief stroll away from his seat during the report to chat to computer operators.