“Two Sessions” Takeaways: What You Need to Know from China’s Big Meetings So Far

One of China's biggest political meetings of the year is underway in Beijing

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4:56 PM HKT, Fri March 8, 2019 3 mins read

The first week of one of China’s biggest annual political meetings is about to wrap up in Beijing, so here’s a quick-fire run-down on some of the big stories to emerge from the “Two Sessions” so far.

The “Two Sessions” refers to meetings of a pair of key organizations in China, the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The former features lots of old Han Chinese men applauding lengthy speeches, while the latter features more lengthy speeches but this time with a smattering of celebrities. The meetings tend to dominate Chinese media coverage during their two-week run, while they’re generally accompanied by extra scrutiny of online and offline dissent. The Guardian calls the meetings “China’s greatest political spectacle”.

A big English-language propaganda push

You might not have heard of the “Two Sessions” before, and now that you have you might not care. Fair enough. But State news agency Xinhua has been hard at working trying to make the meetings seem like an event of international import. How? Well, for one thing by delivering this monstrosity:

This latest propaganda hip hop video posed more questions than it answered, with the main one being “Why?!” Or, as our own Josh Feola more eloquently put it in Quartz‘s piece on this red rap fiasco:

Rather than catering to actual rap fans, trend-chasing youngsters or overseas English speakers, the clip was likely made with a different aim, at least according to Feola. He explains: “My assumption is that this English-language rap video with borderline nonsensical lyrics is actually geared towards a Chinese audience that’s not very familiar with hip-hop,” said Feola, to signal that the annual gathering—where the government reports on work carried out in the previous year and sets economic targets for the current year—is an event “with global recognition and contemporary cultural relevance.”

While Xinhua’s video department may be in need of some re-education, the infographic wing at CGTN (formerly CCTV International and an arm of China’s State broadcaster) may just have been sharing a few high-fives this week after their interactive examination of the meetings was widely shared (for more positive reasons than the rap) online. Entitled “Who runs China?”, the graphic wasn’t just a picture of Xi Jinping, but instead gave a run down on the make-up of the delegates attending in an attempt to show that the plenary sessions are becoming more representative.

cgtn lianghui two sessions infographic

CGTN’s “Who runs China?” interactive infographic

Technically more representative, sure, but work to be done it seems.

Finally, there was another video from Xinhua which came with the title “Chinese democracy in the eyes of an American”. It was not a US citizen reviewing Guns N’ Roses’ 2008 album:

As Eva Xiao wrote for AFP:

[Xinhua editor Colin] Linneweber was later ridiculed on Twitter for his role in the video, with some wondering whether he had been paid, while others criticised it as “shameful”, as the piece emphasises the democratic nature of the National People’s Congress, even though many of the bills it votes on are decided by party leaders prior to the session.

Bored celebrities

Using celebrities to make dull political meetings seem relevant is a tactic employed the world over, but you really need to remind them to look perky the whole time. Otherwise, you get shots like these:

Facial recognition on the people = good; facial recognition on CPC delegates = bad

China’s been pushing facial recognition tech in all kinds of areas in recent years, from banking to jaywalking to cat shelters. But one area it’s apparently not welcome is in the identification of Communist Party delegates. Twitter account @AirMovingDevice had scanned in images of official attendees to the “Two Sessions” and then used facial recognition technology to track them during media coverage of the event.

But on Tuesday came this disturbing Tweet:

Fortunately, there’s since been a follow-up:

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, many of the original messages have been archived here.

“Two Sessions” blue, eventually

You might not think that that’s particularly newsworthy, but in recent years big meetings in Beijing have been met almost unfailingly with brilliant blue skies. Coincidence or cloud seeding? Regardless, the first few days of this year’s “Two Sessions” were accompanied by a grey miasma. Fortunately, it seems someone eventually got the memo:

Cover photo: John Cameron on Unsplash

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