Back To Top

Beijing steps up frugality drive to clean up image

Ningxia province’s delegate to China’s national Parliament Wu Renmin is paying money for laundry for the first time this year while other delegates have lugged their own toothbrush and toiletries to the Chinese capital.

Even bottled water ― which has, to the dismay of many, somewhat replaced the “tea ladies” ― is being rationed at the ongoing meetings of the National People’s Congress. Delegates are encouraged to write their name or leave an identifying mark on stickers pasted on the bottles so as to reduce waste.

This is the second year running that the NPC is cleaning up its image by removing wasteful excess that has sullied the Communist Party’s reputation and hurt the party’s legitimacy.

But it is taking its relentless frugality campaign to new heights this year, targeting even the smallest of details, so that the usual fruit platters in hotel rooms have vanished together with the once ubiquitous welcome banners in the hotel lobbies. Even the eye-catching brigade of “tea ladies” ― tall young women in striking red qipao tasked solely with pouring tea for the officials and delegates ― has been downsized at the country’s largest political event of the year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud as they attend the third plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. (AP-Yonhap)
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud as they attend the third plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. (AP-Yonhap)

Said Sichuan delegate Kang Yongheng: “There are signs telling us to finish our bottle before taking another so as not to be wasteful ... There is also less variety now in the meals provided.”

“Even in the details, the government is saying that there is a demand for frugality. Delegates are more self-aware this year and know what is expected of them,” he told The Straits Times.

But the list does not end there.

Beijing’s thrift also includes pencils made with recycled paper and doing away with name tags on meeting tables at the provinces’ own meetings on the sidelines of the NPC session.

Red carpets are also conspicuously missing while recycling of used paper is encouraged, with special bins for such paper placed at some delegates’ hotels.

This year, 17 new frugality measures have been introduced, NPC spokesman Fu Ying told reporters at a press conference last week.

This is up from the 15 measures taken last year such as simpler decoration, with the goal of “improving the conduct” of the NPC. Other measures this year include banning of gift-giving and lavish welcome ceremonies, and delegates being served buffet meals without expensive food or wine.

This is because delegates should be role models for the government’s frugality drive, said Fu. “We are committed to making the meetings results-oriented, economical and clean, and to place ourselves under the supervision of the public,” she added.

The current meeting is slated to wrap up on Thursday.

Beijing-based political analyst Li Fan told The Straits Times that while people are happy that extravagance is being stamped out, this is just the first step of many in regaining their trust. “People’s trust in the government will not immediately increase. They are watching to see if this is a sustained policy,” he added. “But what they care most about is whether the delegates actually represent them or if it’s all empty talk at the meetings.”

Lawmakers that The Straits Times spoke to, however, are eager to fall in with the party line.

Hebei province delegate Han Yuchen said that while food and drinks served at the meetings have been reduced and entertainment for provincial delegations abolished, more emphasis has been placed on the effectiveness of the meetings. “This is my 12th NPC session. And you can see that the length of the meeting this year has been shortened by a day or two compared with previous years,” he said.

Added Jiangsu delegate Zhou Lan: “There are fewer meaningless events like banquets, leaving delegates more focused on the agenda of the meetings and discharging our duties.”

By Esther Teo

(The Straits Times)