Sex education in kindergartens, freezing the eggs of single women to counter population decline, three-day weekends — these are some of the more unusual delegates’ proposals for China’s biggest annual political extravaganza, the “two sessions”.
Lacking official backing and unlikely to be adopted, the ideas are a relatively freewheeling part of the meetings in Beijing, which start on Saturday with the opening of the nation’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
While the CPPCC is largely a talkfest, markets will pay close heed to the accompanying National People’s Congress, which starts on Sunday and rubber stamps Communist party decisions. The government will release a “work report” that will set an economic growth target for the year — expected by analysts to be 5 per cent or more — and will detail the civil and military budgets.
Observers will also be looking for a “forceful” government reshuffle mooted by President Xi Jinping, who is set to replace his economic team and shake up important ministries and regulatory agencies in the finance, tech and other sectors.
With about 5,000 delegates in total, membership of the two bodies is seen as prestigious for ambitious entrepreneurs and officials, even if their presence is mainly to create political theatre as the party hierarchy pushes through a pre-planned agenda.
The delegates compete to produce policy proposals, with the CPPCC publishing a list of the top 60 ideas. For delegates, it is regarded as a significant achievement if their suggestion elicits a formal response from central party leaders or is included in certain internal publications.
“With the CCP’s increasingly tightened control of social and economic resources and opportunities, it has become even more important than before for elites in China to become ‘insiders’ of the ‘system’,” said Chen Xi, associate professor, government and public administration at CUHK in Hong Kong.
More than 80 of the delegates are billionaires, with 41 billionaire NPC deputies having a total fortune of $191bn, down 10 per cent from a year prior. The 40 billionaires on the advisory committee were worth $313bn, down 12 per cent, according to research from Hurun Report, which publishes rich lists for China.
China’s economic slowdown and real estate collapse battered many of the delegates’ fortunes. The internet industry’s loss of political favour has also led to the exit of leading tech titans from the NPC like Pony Ma of social media group Tencent and Robin Li of search giant Baidu.
While the top CPPCC proposals in last year’s official list drew heavily on Xi’s own sayings — with candidates advocating policies such as “common prosperity”, his plan to distribute wealth more evenly — many of those featured this year in local media are more colourful.
Picking up on the idea that China needs to encourage more consumption, one delegate has suggested restructuring weekends so people can alternate between three-day and one-day breaks, on the assumption that the longer weekends would encourage more domestic tourism.
Another candidate has proposed allowing unmarried women to register for government services such as birth insurance. Presently only those who first marry are eligible for such services in most provinces.
Among ideas to solve China’s declining population, one candidate advocated requiring young people to work no more than eight hours a day to give them more time to fall in love and procreate. Still another said there should be sex education in kindergartens — using Chinese textbooks to stop the “alarming western infiltration” of the subject.
One delegate voiced the dream of many in China’s private business community by appealing for a law to stop local state officials from illegally interfering in economic disputes.
Given that Xi pledged to strengthen “party building” in non-public enterprises ahead of the two meetings, it was not clear how much of a hearing the proposal would receive.
Yu Ping, a New York-based independent commentator, said delegates tended to be able to voice opinions more freely than ordinary people, who the party would normally accuse of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
“Local governments usually provide preferential political treatment to NPC/CPPCC delegates,” Yu said.
Ryan McMorrow contributed reporting from Beijing.