BEIJING – The annual session of China's ceremonial legislature is designed to awe onlookers with its size and sweep, with nearly 3,000 delegates and hordes of journalists and others gathered in the cavernous auditorium of the hulking Great Hall of the People, itself adjacent to the vast expanse of Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital.
Yet the experience is also made up of tiny moments, details that point to the personalities of the participants and the event's unique, sometimes quirky, traits that a casual observer might easily miss.
Delegates attend in all their finery, whether smart business suits, crisply pressed military uniforms or a monk's maroon robes. The various minority ethnic costumes featuring elaborate silver headdresses and embroidered silks liven up the scene with splashes of color and the tinkle of bells. On the way to their seats, they rub shoulders with one another and the army of white-gloved attendants in black suit and tie, ever ready to check an identification card or pour a cup of steaming hot tea.
For many, the 10-day session is a chance not only to perform their pre-ordained tasks of discussing and approving government reports and any pieces of legislation before the body, but also to catch up on news and see old friends, particularly those from other parts of the vast nation of 1.37 billion people. Selfies are now de rigueur for attendees, alongside the standard group photo beneath azure skies freed from the usual choking smog, reportedly through the temporary closure of polluting industries in the surrounding region.