Chinese Parliamentary Sessions 2013
March 2013 sees the annual meeting of the two legislative and consultative bodies of China, where major policies are decided and key government officials appointed. The National People's Congress (NPC) is held in the Great Hall of the People in China's capital, Beijing, and with 2,987 members, is the largest parliament in the world. It gathers alongside the People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) whose members represent various groups of society.
Yao Ming wants to use CPPCC role to promote role of sport
Former NBA star wants to use CPPCC status to promote the role of athletes and their welfare
Former basketball star Yao Ming has called for Chinese sports to get back to basics and not be viewed solely as a way of advancing national honour.
The 2.26-metre-tall former Houston Rockets centre, who played in the United States' elite NBA competition for eight seasons and spearheaded a basketball boom in China, said he was feeling some pressure in his new role as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
"My dream is that sports can become more than a way of winning national glory but a way to cultivate robust bodies and inspiring minds," Yao said. "My basketball career has ended, but I will continue to push sports development forward."
Yao professional basketball career ended in 2011 due to chronic foot injuries. Many have said his NBA career was cut short because his obligation to play for the Chinese national team meant he could not rest after intense NBA seasons.
His decision to represent China at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, right after an NBA season, at the risk of ruining his career due to worsening injuries, won him additional respect from Chinese fans.
But some questioned his patriotism when his daughter, who was born in 2010, obtained US citizenship.
Delegates to the CPPCC session that opened on Sunday are allowed to propose regulations and make policy recommendations. In his first proposal, Yao also voiced concerns about the living conditions of retired athletes, with some former champions having trouble making ends meet.
"Under the current system, only a few retired athletes can reach the top of the pyramid, while most of them lack the essential skills to survive in society after retirement," Yao said.
He said although the government provided support in the form of retraining, the efforts were far from adequate.
The government has been criticised for discarding athletes once their careers are over. In recent years, Ai Dongmei , a former Beijing Marathon champion, was found selling popcorn and clothing on the street, and Zou Chunlan , a former national champion weightlifter, spent time scrubbing backs in a bathhouse.
Yao also talked about another new role, as vice-chairman of the Shanghai Public Diplomacy Association.
He said public diplomacy was an effective channel for expanding the influence of a nation's "soft power" and enhancing cultural communication.