Reporters vie with each other to secure interviews during China's annual two sessions, which ushers in a time of rare, unrestricted access to government officials. Photo: CFP
China's annual meetings of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), also known as the two sessions, attracts journalists from all over the world to Beijing. Global Times reporter Liu Linlin covered the sessions of China's national legislature and top political advisory body this year, reporting the latest reforms and proposals made by deputies and members. Her story Inventors needed appeared in the Global Times on March 18 in the Business Insight section, detailing the situation regarding patent applications in China. With the country's top political sessions now over, she reflects on some of the unique challenges faced by reporters during the period as they scramble for interviews with officials difficult to access throughout the rest of the year.
The back story:
I started to cover the annual two sessions on March 2. Reporting the patent story came down to 70 percent planning and 30 percent luck, like most stories written during the political event.
Rain fell at the closing ceremony of the CPPCC session on March 12, and luckily when I arrived at the Great Hall of the People it was merely drizzle and not a heavy downpour.
My initial plan was to interview Tian Lipu, director of China's State Intellectual Property Office, for the story. I had familiarized myself with Tian's profile and picture to ensure I could easily recognize him, but the crowd made up of media personnel and CPPCC members made this a more difficult task than I anticipated.
Pictures online of the more than 2,000 CPPCC members can be misleading. You can often find yourself obliviously standing in front of the member you're looking for while scanning the crowd for a person in your mind who appears, according to their picture, a decade younger.
I often have to try hard to mask my surprise when CPPCC members don't appear in person as I imagine them.
I once saw a CPPCC member refused entry to the Great Hall of the People by a security guard because his thinning, gray hair didn't resemble the sleek, black-haired man in the photo on his ID card.
Politicians are not like pop stars; detailed profiles about their height, weight and blood type aren't available to the public.
As I stood under my umbrella, watching hundreds of men of almost the same height dressed in black suits and wearing gold-framed glasses, I intensified my concentration to try and spot Tian from the crowd.
Luckily, the rain worked in my favor. CPPCC members who are also government officials usually enter the hall from three main entrances, meaning more than three reporters are required to stake out any given interviewee.
But because of the rain, most buses carrying members arrived at the front entrance only.
I seized the chance to run to the doorstep at the front entrance as buses stopped one by one in front of the hall and soon spotted a man, wearing a cream-colored coat holding a blue umbrella, who resembled Tian.
"Mr Tian!" I shouted at the man three times, each time louder than the last. He eventually turned to face me and I couldn't contain my excitement as I cut through the crowd to greet him and request an interview.
He obligingly agreed, and we had a five-minute interview. It turned out to be a stroke of good luck that I had found and interviewed him without having to run from entrance to entrance or obstructing other members on their way to the restroom.
Reporters covering the two sessions have gradually evolved into restless and even shameless "vultures" due to their desperation to secure interviews.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in January that power should be locked "in the cage of system," emphasizing the importance of regulating and restraining power.
But attending the two sessions entails a different kind of experience, whereby officials have become locked in a certain kind of "cage" that the public and media struggle to unlock.
To interview a senior official, reporters routinely need to submit formal requests that can take weeks to be approved. The two sessions are the only chance for reporters to closely interact with so many high-level officials at once without having to trawl through the normal bureaucratic system that often ends with polite, yet cold, rejection.
For this reason, every reporter tussles for interviews with officials, especially if they are exclusive. One particular female reporter from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, found fame online after she secured interviews with 10 minister-level NPC deputies and CPPCC members at this year's two sessions.
She sat on the right side of me when the CPPCC held its first press conference to introduce its new spokesperson on March 2. She shared her experience about how she asked the last question at a press conference at last year's sessions.
She was fully prepared this year because it was her time to shine at the meetings.
When I attended a press conference given by former commerce minister Chen Deming, reporters wanted to ask the last question so badly that dozens of them rushed to the stage and knocked over a loudspeaker.
A photographer, no doubt scrambling to snap a photo of Chen for his newspaper's front page, almost fell at my feet when he stumbled unceremoniously on the loudspeaker.