Advisory body's absurd ideas 'just shocking'

Advisory body's absurd ideas 'just shocking'
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (centre) taking a photo with female delegates to celebrate International Women's Day on Sunday at the annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing. One proposal by a delegate - that was roundly slammed - involved giving women maternity leave of up to three years.

When rare blue skies were sighted in the first few days of China's top advisory body's annual meeting this year, Chinese netizens joked this was because the hot air from the delegates had blown Beijing's notorious smog away.

Indeed, the gathering of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) regularly throws up offbeat, if not bizarre, proposals, a reminder that the event is not just about GDP growth or the social cost of pollution.

The phenomenon even has its own term lei ren ti an, loosely translated as "shocking proposals". Lei means thunder in Chinese. Read one of these proposals and you will feel as if you have been struck by lightning, the saying goes.

The dubious honour is conferred by netizens, and this year's shocking proposals include three years' maternity leave and issuing new bank notes to surprise corrupt officials, among others.

CPPCC delegate Zhang Lihui, dean of the Conservatory of Music at Chongqing Normal University, was quoted in Chinese media reports as suggesting that giving up to three years of maternity leave would improve a child's early education and spur mothers to be more involved in work when they return to their jobs.

But her proposal was roundly slammed.

"If you have three children, you can go almost 10 years without work," one user wrote on a Chinese news forum. "No company is going to hire women."

Also criticised was a suggestion by the Jiu San Society - one of China's eight legal non-Communist political parties - to "swiftly change" and issue a new series of currency notes so as to catch corrupt officials who hoard vast amounts of ill-gotten cash off guard.

Besides the inconvenience to the public and the expense such an exercise would cost the government, some netizens pointed out that this move might even reward these officials, if the notes become collectors' items.

Delegate Li Suhua, a singer by profession, also raised eyebrows when she proposed that TV and radio stations should refrain from "light-hearted programming" during national memorial days.

She was quoted as saying these programmes were "incongruent" with the sombre atmosphere of memorial days, recalling her personal experience of hearing such a programme last Dec 13, a day commemorating the Nanking Massacre.

"The atmosphere was ruined," she said.

Such offbeat proposals come up partly because the CPPCC's 2,200 delegates are appointed, not elected, and many of them are removed from issues on the ground, political commentator Bi Dianlong told The Straits Times.

"They are not accountable to an electorate and they will not be punished for poor suggestions."

Furthermore, CPPCC delegates are selected to represent different sectors and communities, with capability sometimes a secondary issue, said Fudan University history professor Ge Jianxiong.

Delegates can submit proposals individually or on behalf of an organisation. These are sent to the relevant authorities as feedback, and may or may not be accepted.

According to official figures, delegates have submitted about 6,000 proposals this year, not all of which are made public.

Closer scrutiny by the public, however, has helped reduce unworkable proposals.

One idea that was retracted following public ridicule was a proposal to prevent a couple from divorcing if they have a child below 10 years old.

The proposal by the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang was withdrawn, with the minor political party admitting that the suggestion neglected the parents' rights.

But some have spoken up for the delegates, saying everyone has a right to be heard.

A commentary in China Daily last week pointed out that delegates come from all sectors of life, with different education and cultural backgrounds.

"As long as they are what these deputies and members really want to say, then let them make their voices heard," it said. "Don't mock them."

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