China's war against excess evident in no-frills national gatherings
Signs that the central government's fight against excess is in full force were evident at this year's toned-down parliamentary meetings.
Some delegates were asked by organisers to bring their own toothbrushes, slippers and daily necessities instead of relying on hotels to provide them. Many delegations from the provinces and cities chose to forgo chartered flights and travelled by coach or train to Beijing.
"Since last year, austerity and frugality have become common in the meetings. No red carpets, no flowers, no welcome banners - these are good [developments]," said Lei Xianhe, a film director and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate.
The annual sessions of the CPPCC and the national legislature, the National People's Congress, began last week.
In a crowded function room at the Beijing International Hotel, where a group of delegates were discussing educational issues, dozens of mineral water bottles were seen with blank labels for the names of delegates, who made sure not to open a bottle before the old one was finished.
Women serving free-flowing tea, a fixture in previous meetings, were conspicuously absent. One cup of tea was already set out for each delegate before the meeting started.
Shortly after taking office last year, President Xi Jinping launched a battle against extravagance and wasteful spending in the party. NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying said the central government proposed 17 measures this year, up from 15 last year, to ramp up the austerity drive.
These included streamlining logistics, banning welcome or farewell ceremonies for delegates, discouraging deputies and staff from holding banquets or exchanging gifts, and barring expensive food, alcohol and other beverages from the buffet table. Delegates and officials were also not allowed to accept donations of books or other goods.
"The NPC should serve as a model … We are committed to making the meetings results-oriented, economical and clean, and to place ourselves under the public's supervision," Fu said.
"We have followed the requirements strictly," said a staff member at Guoyi Hotel, one of the hotels hosting delegates during the two weeks of meetings. "The overall reception cost has been reduced significantly."
"No expensive food and no alcohol is served," film director Lei confirmed, adding that the buffet was limited to six to seven home-style dishes.
"Even documents used at the meeting are an austerity target," Lei said. "Most documents are [kept] digital so that delegates can download [them] with their mobile phones or laptops. This is eco-friendly and also saves money."
Shi Maolin, a CPPCC delegate from Taiwan, said the measures were likely to meet with public approval. "But the key is to stick with that [austerity measures] in the future," he said.
The party leadership promised that this year's meeting budgets would not exceed those of last year - but the figures are kept secret, and no estimates are available. The budgets could be swollen, however, by the increased security provided after the March 1 attack by knife-wielding assailants in Kunming , Yunnan province, which left 29 civilians dead.