THE solemnity of the occasion in the Great Hall of the People was marked not by high-pitched political speeches, but by an almost constant flood of tears from one Hong Kong delegate throughout the two-hour plenary session. Dorothy Liu Yiu-chu, attending her first meeting of the Preliminary Working Committee, said she just could not control herself when she saw former Executive Councillor Sir Sze-yuen Chung sitting next to her. ''I simply could not accept that these people, who used to be in the British political camp, have now shifted to our camp, taking up very important posts,'' she said. She said she was so confused by phrases like ''the Chinese side'' and ''the British side'' flying across the conference table and she could not stop her tears. In sharp contrast, chairman Qian Qichen was anything but confused or moody. China is angry at Governor Chris Patten's decision to table the partial electoral bill, but there was no hint of outrage in Mr Qian's 10-minute address. There was no waving of documents, no tapping of the table as Mr Patten had done in the Legislative Council last week while explaining his frustration at what he said was China's intransigence on political proposals. Mr Qian was solemn throughout the reading of his prepared speech - meant for the ears of the inner circle but which accidentally fell on the media's as well. The four rows of members facing the dais listened attentively while reporters wasted no time to take down the juicy quotes. Ten minutes slipped away and the press was politely asked by Mr Qian to leave the hall. But just as the press corps was trooping out, someone sitting close to him said - and it was picked up by the microphone: ''It's a favour to them, they've got more than five minutes.'' The meeting was plunged into a shroud of secrecy, greater than the first plenum held in the summer. Security was tightened and special precautions were taken to prevent the press from homing in on the delegates. Scores of limousines and minibuses whisked the members away, leaving everyone else in Beijing's icy monsoon. Equally tight security was also in operation at the Hong Kong and Macau Centre where all the sub-groups' meetings were held. While lips were sealed on the outside, not so, apparently inside. Members were bursting to make their views known, even competing for a chance to rise to speak - on Sino-British relations and why their work should be speeded up.