It may not be a contest to everyone’s tastes – rising before dawn to stand in line for hours in Beijing’s smog and cold, and all for the prize of the rather dry-sounding annual government work report. But for the handful of journalists huddled at the gate before the Great Hall of the People, professional pride was at stake as they vied to be the first to publish the key facts and figures. The big news wires had arrived first, at around midnight, and as more journalists arrived they began to share snacks and stories, but never strayed far from their spot. For these wires, it could come down to a matter of seconds as they raced to be the first to publish key economic indicators that could give businesses and investors around the world a vital edge. But the relaxed, orderly mood was shattered at around 4am when a police van suddenly appeared and an officer started barking from the window that the journalists would have to clear the area, and move back to a security checkpoint a few hundred metres south of the square, where dozens of journalists had already been made to wait. The chaotic scenes that followed made it clear that officials had a serious problem on their hands. The officers at each security checkpoint around the square gave different sets of orders to those joining the queue. The handful of early birds who had been waiting at the front gate had been let in through checkpoints at the north of the complex that guided us to the front gate. The vast majority of journalists, however, who approached from the south, were all grouped outside a large checkpoint, a few hundred metres behind us. With our small band reluctant to leave, and the crowd clamouring at the checkpoint to the south, police rushed back and forth to fix their mistake, changing their orders each time. Six key takeaways from China’s annual policy blueprint First we were ordered to head to the back of the line at the checkpoint, only for the police to return a few minutes later telling us that some of us could stay but others would have to leave. Finally, without warning, a wave of journalists came sprinting from the south, having been let loose by police to fight for a spot at the front, and crashed into the few of us standing in their path. There was some yelling and pointing and clamouring in Chinese, English, Japanese and other languages, before the line eventually restored itself to some sort of order with two of the biggest wire services – Bloomberg and Reuters up front – followed closely by the South China Morning Post and a smattering of foreign and domestic outlets. The air became tense again at 7am, the time the gates would open. Police shouted to journalists to be still, maintain order, and form a straight line, eventually sending 20 police officers to force around half of those near the front to move away. When the gate finally opened, elbows came out, as some tried to push forward, and guards tried to push back. I was among the first group of around 20 reporters that were let past the gate – but only just squeezed through. Beijing chokes on dense smog as China’s political heavyweights meet One guard tried to pull me back while another closed the gate on me and a reporter from a mainland outlet. We both yelped, but were let through, with strict instructions not to rush. “Whoever runs will go straight to the back, do you hear me?” shouted one guard. The papers – the work report, along with China’s annual budget estimate and a report on China’s plans for social and economic development – were being handed out and soon cries of “6 to 6.5 per cent” could be heard in several languages as the press pack zoomed in on the main item of interest, next year’s growth targets. It’s unclear which wire “won” the race, and by how many milliseconds, but soon we were all able to take a breather after the figures had been dispatched to our news desks and we settled down into our chairs to wait for Premier Li Keqiang’s speech to begin.