China

China's parliament enlivened by beauties and brands

China's annual political extravaganza is a deeply serious affair, yet the two sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) generate plenty of light-hearted news too. The BBC's Martin Yip takes a look at what people are talking about this year.

LUXURY OUTFITS

Journalists are busy snapping what the ladies and gentlemen of parliament are wearing or carrying as they go through the doors of the Great Hall of the People - prompting many to suggest that the session has become quite a fashion show.

Image caption Delegates' outfits - and their branded accessories - have been attracting considerable attention

One of the most talked about is Li Xiaolin, daughter of former premier Li Peng, spotted wearing a Emilio Pucci pant suit.

Hu Jiayin, chairman of Guangzhou's property giant Evergrande, has been nicknamed "Brother Hermes" for wearing a Hermes belt.

And Li Ruiying, chief news presenter of China Central Television (CCTV), was snapped in a pair of Dior glasses.

But the prize for the top luxury purchase seems to have gone to top military singer Song Zuying, spotted with a diamond-filled Piaget watch on her wrist.

A comment on microblog site Sina Weibo criticised the brand-loving delegates for "flattering Western corrupt lifestyles". Other comments accused officials of corruption.

Some netizens, however, turned their guns on the journalists instead, denouncing reporters for chasing celebrity delegates. Some said they should be ashamed of not spending more time on issues such as inadequate education funding in rural villages.

In this year's session, by the way, delegates have been discussing how to reduce waste on public money, such as that spent onluxury foreign cars for government officials.

BEAUTIES

Another NPC talking point is the number of beautiful ladies involved.

News agencies have provided plenty of pictures showing female support staff - tea ladies and hostesses - jumping high in the sky in front of the Great Hall of the People.

They also have plenty of shots of officials - even a politburo member or two - apparently admiring these staff.

Image caption From hostesses to translators, pictures of the beauties everywhere

Journalists have also come under the spotlight, with a news portal called Three Gorges Online publishing a photo blog of 30 beautiful reporters.

The presence of foreign journalists creates a need for simultaneous translators at press conferences, and state media have been circulating pictures of two ladies who perform the honours.

One of them is Zhang Lu, a senior translator from the Foreign Ministry. ThePeople's Dailyran a photo story of her with a short biography, and she is the first female translator to be assigned to a press conference delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao.

Ms Lu has become famous not just because of her beauty, but because of her ability to translate the ancient Chinese literature that Premier Wen loves to quote in his speeches.

Not everyone is pleased with the focus on looks. A female blogger said she felt "disgusted" with the reports on "congress beauties" - she wants to become a reporter herself.

Another blogger from southern Guangdong appealed to photographers to turn their lenses away from women and point them at the officials.

SCRAMBLING JOURNALISTS

Image caption To get the news, journalists have to scramble

Talking of journalists, covering China's annual conference is always a tough job.

Statistics from the official press centre suggest that at least 3,000 accredited journalists are in Beijing, but some put that estimate at double.

Common scenes include reporters in their dozens if not hundreds surrounding a delegate or government official, and groups of journalists sitting on the ground just outside the chamber to go through printed copies of Wen Jiabao's speech.

One journalist apparently managed to secure a very short comment from a significant religious figure - Buddhist abbot Shi Yongxin from the Shaolin Temple - with a heartfelt plea.

"My Buddha of compassion, please help me to complete my mission, master!"the abbot apparently said.

After the press conference hosted by NPC spokesperson Li Zhaoxing, a senior reporter has been dubbed "the most ferocious female reporter" by speeding towards Mr Li's seat as he was about to leave and apparently grabbing the former foreign minister's sleeve so that she could have a word.

And chases like these do not always end well -another TV reportermanaged to bash her microphone into the mouth of Chinese film director Zhang Yimou.

'STUNNING' PROPOSALS

Image caption Some delegates make "stunning" proposals, some criticise the others for making such proposals

In recent years, one hot online topic has been what are known as "stunning" proposals - proposals that people believe are useless or nonsense.

The most controversial proposal this year came from a NPC delegate from Guangzhou, who proposed making the rare right to give birth to a second child under China's one-child policy transferable from the poor to the rich.

Li Xinghao's suggestion has met with fierce criticism,but he insists thatit can gives babies a wealthier environment to grow up in.

Another proposal to bring China's minimum marriage age down to 18 has also been labelled a "stunning" proposal.

Under current law, a Chinese man cannot get married until the age of 22, while it is 20 for women. ButHuang Xihua, also from Guangdong, believes that this does not respect individual rights and also leads to women giving birth later and a general failure to find a spouse.

Ms Huang's proposal has received some public support, but many are criticising her for encouraging dropping out of school and potentially raising divorce rates.

But a lady nicknamed the "most stunning proposal maker" has expressed her sorrow.

CPPCC Beijing delegate Zhang Xiaomei has been booed in recent years for proposing wages for housewives and four-and-a-half-day weeks, but she argues that these are aimed at protecting women's rights.

This year Ms Zhang finally won some cheers with a proposal to extend centralised heating services to southern cities.

THE ABSENTEES

While attending the annual parliament session can get you noticed, some delegates raise more eyebrows by not showing up.

Image caption Although not in Beijing, Liu Xiang has reportedly submitted his own proposal

Liu Xiang, China's star athlete, is probably the most prominent absentee this year. Some delegates at the CPPCC have expressed anger, telling the "soya sauce delegate" to do some soul-searching for his "irresponsibility".

"Soya sauce delegate" derives from Chinese internet jargon - "buying soya sauce" is used to describe someone who acts as an onlooker in a forum discussion but does not participate.

Hu Jiayan, deputy director of the State General Administration of Sports,has already stood up in his defence- Liu Xiang had to prepare for the upcoming London Olympics, he said.

Another high-profile absentee from the NPC is Wang Lijun, former police chief and vice-mayor of Chongqing. The NPC has confirmed he is being investigated. He has not been seen since an apparent attempt to seek asylum at the US consulate in Sichuan's Chengdu city.

Mr Wang's saga has led to much speculation over the career of his immediate boss - Chongqing Party secretary Bo Xilai.

As a Politburo member,Mr Bo's absence on Thursday morningfor a full chamber session sparked much speculation over whether he is indeed in deep trouble.

But the next day Mr Bo returned to parliament for the Chongqing delegation panel - as journalists lined up outside.

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