China Development Brief, no. 49 (Spring 2011)
When the average Chinese reflects on last year’s annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), otherwise known as the “Two Congresses,” the only thing that comes to mind is transportation restrictions and traffic jams. All the speeches by representatives, committee members, and subsequent media commentary are nothing but a cacophony of sound bites. It’s difficult to piece together the complex puzzle of proposals and resolutions. The media referred to this time as a “Feast of Politics,” but perhaps this title would be better suited to describe something else. The media’s focal points of this year’s Two Congresses might lead people to believe that this meeting is actually a little lovable.
The first focal point is the popular representation of the Two Congresses online, featuring a chart of “shocking quotes” from committee members. Perhaps some of these quotes were fabricated, satirized, or taken out of context, but without this humor, such quotes would never reach the eyes of the proletariat. Who’s to say that these jokes aren’t a form of political involvement? The shocking quotes chart is a product of the Internet generation, and is a realization of the tolerance of diverse values and voices in society.
Some representatives have said, “Such a sensitive question, what do you think you’re doing asking me?” This discourse rings much truer than the perfunctory responses in the “hand-raising machine” and empty talk that make up political speech today. Of course representatives want to evade sensitive questions, but sometimes there’s no way around it. Hence, entertaining discourse such as “We shouldn’t encourage villagers to attend university,” “We should forbid Internet cafes,” one after another have been added to the shocking quotes chart. In addition, vocal interests are no longer quiet with their demands. There are representatives and committee members who have won the praises of netizens, such as Cui Yongyuan’s admonition of contemporary problems, a statement filled with concern for society. These distinct utterances, no matter what form they take, still ring true. For those of us outside the meetings, these statements allow us to find representatives and voices that resonate with our concerns.
The second focal point is outside lobbying of “citizen remonstrators”. According to media reports, in 2007 civil legislation participant Xiong Wei gathered data from the10th National People’s Congress showing that there have been 3000 representatives who released over 5000 proposals in the past five years. He discovered that about 2000 NPC representatives have never once raised a proposal. He further noted that only 20 of the 3000 representatives that did raise a proposal accounted for over 70% of all proposals1.
On one side are those who have channels to communicate but don’t have the power or time, or more likely they don’t have the aspiration to act. On the other side are NGOs who, like geological field workers, are always exploring new territory to communicate and advocate their interests. Not surprisingly, the annual meetings of the Two Congresses have become a focus of many NGOs. Consider Liang Congjie, the recently deceased founder of Friends of Nature, who leveraged his status as a CPPCC committee member to push forward more than a few proposals.Those NGOs without status have used this channel for many years. Normally, well before the annual Two Congresses, NGOs start getting in touch with committee members and representatives to communicate, write proposals, suggest resolutions, and even set them up with media interviews. Their methods for finding representatives are manifold, and in this new age of the Internet, some people simply change their QQ or MSN signature to “Searching for CPPCC committee members” venturing beyond their own networks and territory.
While we have no statistics to document whether NGO lobbying has become the norm, this phenomenon has gradually become a focus of the media. During their coverage of this year’s “Two Congresses,” China Youth Daily, Southern Metropolis Daily, and Time Weekly have all been focusing topics raised by NGOs such as the Xiao Nanhai power station, medical coverage for rare diseases, waste recycling methodology, and Hepatitis B carriers searching for employment.
Of course, no matter how much these “outside” lobbying efforts are discussed by the media, the actual effect is impossible to judge. Wang Yi’ou of Porcelain Dolls (瓷娃娃), a Beijing-based NGO that advocates for medical coverage of rare diseases, stated, “There’s never any news of activity; we’ve raised the issue for so many years, but we haven’t even been able to agree on a definition of rare diseases. It got to the point that the representative just stopped submitting the proposal.” Through civil actions, Xiong Wei has tried to push through legislation for ten years, but not one of his proposals has ever led to substantive legislation. NGOs understand that through the special occasion of the Two Congresses, just attracting attention is perhaps a more realistic purpose.
“Whatever we say is a waste, whatever we don’t say is a waste; but even if it’s a waste, we still must speak.” This quote from Liang Congjie (the founding president of the environmental NGO, Friends of Nature) appropriately expresses the views of many NGOs. The change they seek is so slow and minute that it’s not easy to perceive. But the important thing is, change will only come through action.
Editor’s Note: The author is making the point here that there is a big gap between those who are inside the system (e.g. NPC and CPPCC members) and those who are outside the system (e.g. citizen remonstrators such as NGOs). Those inside the system have a platform but often do not take advantage of it. Those outside the system lack such a platform, and as a result seek the attention of those inside the system to get their demands heard. ↩