Beijing Fashion Week – that’s how some netizens have referred to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the past, after so many of the delegates turned up in luxury brands.
Not so this year – this being the first CPPCC meeting presided over by China’s austerity-minded president, Xi Jinping.
Gone are the Hermès belts, Louis Vuitton bags, Christian Dior glasses and Bottega Veneta briefcases once favoured by the attendees. Instead delegates are decking themselves out in simpler, unbranded clothing that implies greater solidarity with the masses.
Among the great makeovers was that of Song Zuying, a popular folk singer and Chinese naval officer who has turned up to previous meetings in Chanel boots and Louis Vuitton silk scarves.
This year, perhaps as a nod to Xi Jinping’s vision for China as a strong maritime nation, she stuck to her uniform as a Rear Admiral.
Li Xiaolin, the boss of state-owned China Power International, also toned down her appearance.
Li, also the daughter of Li Peng, the former Chinese premier, caused consternation when she turned up to the 2012 CPPCC in a bright pink Emilio Pucci trouser suit, plus a Chanel necklace. Her outfit was estimated as costing at least $3,300.
Then last October she chose to wear a $5,670 Roberto Cavalli trenchcoat to attend the National Women’s Congress.
This year, however, Li dressed down to such a degree that the only item of note was her recycled cloth satchel containing a blue plastic water flask.
“In the spirit of ‘beating the tiger’ and Qingfen buns (see WiC221)… they have finally put some normal clothes on,” the Securities Times remarked in an amusing, if somewhat unfair, article on the outfits worn by the female delegates.
CBN concurred: “Since the new generation of leadership began to promote a more austere way of living, the echoes of frugality can be heard in each and every corner of society.”
Certainly that was the message that the authorities wanted to get across. As well as toning down their attire, CPPCC councillors were also told to abstain from hanging banners in their meeting rooms, insisting on red carpets or decorating their conference halls with costly flowers and plants, the Beijing Times reported.
Meanwhile the organisers of the National People Congress – China’s parliament runs concurrently with the CPPCC – introduced a new registration system for bottles of drinking water after so many half-finished bottles were left lying around last year.
The Beijing Youth Daily also reported that NPC delegates had been banned from using their phones in sessions, lest they get caught playing games, shopping online or watching TV.
The newspaper also said that delegates had been told to keep their speeches short and “refreshing” in order to prevent other lawmakers from falling asleep.
While such details met with a fair amount of online mockery, it seems that effort to economise at the annual gatherings met with wider approval.
“I am really touched by how low-key this year’s Two Sessions are,” wrote one weibo user.
Another suggested: “This year’s sessions really seem to be full of people who want to serve. This is a good sign of reform.”
Some of the legislation under discussion at the meetings, such as the proposals to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death, or policies to strengthen data privacy online, also attracted positive attention.
But of course the Two Sessions always throw up a few odd suggestions too.
This year, that honour fell to Zhu Lieyu, an outspoken NPC member from Guangdong who has proposed the disbanding of China’s earthquake agency “because it is bad at predicting earthquakes”.
Few people paid much attention, however. In previous years Zhu has also suggested awarding the death penalty to people who damage ancient tombs and free train journeys for people travelling at Chinese New Year.
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