Beijing Despatch | International

Xi stands tall in the Great Hall of the People

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People as the Communist Party opens its twice-a-decade congress.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People as the Communist Party opens its twice-a-decade congress.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Amid a steady drizzle and under grey skies, the 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) began its twice-a-decade session on October 18. It started with President Xi Jinping holding fort for more than three hours, unveiling broad concepts and finer details on China’s “way forward”.

Mr. Xi had arrived in the imposing Great Hall of the People to a standing ovation by the assembled 2,287 delegates. His entourage included two former leaders — the 91-year old Jiang Zemin and Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Mr. Jiang has gone down in history as the man who steered China’s ship when it was rocked by the tumultuous Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. With the backing of the then ‘paramount leader’ Deng Xiaoping, Mr. Jiang became the architect of the “socialist market economy” — opening up China to a market-oriented system, but without relinquishing state control.

Mr. Hu was at the helm when China seemed to be cruising along, though steady undercurrents of corruption and the threat of an economic bubble were building underneath. The presence of the two former Presidents walking alongside Mr. Xi as he entered the Great Hall of the People was symbolically important. Speculation was rife that the President’s relentless anti-corruption campaign had alienated the two former leaders, as it had targeted some of their loyalists. The honour bestowed to Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu was the President’s riposte to those who had pointed out rifts — real or imaginary — within the ranks of the CPC.

The grandeur of the Great Hall befittingly embellished Wednesday’s event. The magnificent structure, opposite the Tiananmen Square, was built in a record 10 months. That was because Mao Zedong wanted the construction to be completed ahead of 1959, the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the PRC, was entrusted to supervise construction. Nine other iconic buildings also rose up during first decade of the PRC’s founding. These include the National Museum — a sprawling structure opposite the Great Hall, the Beijing Railway Station, the Workers Stadium, the Military Museum and the Diaoyutai State Guest House.

The main auditorium where Mr. Xi spoke is a massive facility. The lower auditorium can accommodate 3,693 people, while nearly an equal number can occupy the balcony. More space is available in the gallery where 2,518 people can be seated in one go. The dais itself can host 300-500 people.

Code of conduct

As Mr. Xi read out the report card of the previous five years and unveiled the road map for the future, hosts and hostesses, at periodic intervals, marched from the margins, refilling cups of green tea for the delegates on dais. The participants at the conference had been carefully chosen, making sure that China’s diversity was unambiguously showcased. Some of the delegates wore distinctive headgears that earmarked their ethnic lineage. The majority of the men — their hair dyed black in accordance with an unspoken tradition — wore sober dark suits and neckties.

At the venue, foreign reporters, who had stood out in the rain with their Chinese peers to clear exceptionally tight security ahead of the conference, were handily provided copies of Mr. Xi’s speech, which had been translated in 12 different languages. In the run-up to the conference, the Chinese hosts had taken care that visiting foreign media personnel were well acquainted with China’s rise. A high speed rail trip to the neighbouring city of Tianjin had been arranged for journalists to appreciate China’s marvel of steel.

Atul Aneja works for The Hindu and is based in Beijing

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 9:10:59 AM |

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