Photo gallery: China's Great Hall in shadow and light

China's ceremonial parliament and its official advisory body traditionally hold their annual sessions at Beijing's Great Hall of the People during the first two weeks of March, a time when the Chinese capital is finally emerging from the long winter freeze.

This year's gatherings were blessed by unusually clear weather, with little of the choking smog that so often grips the city, and the resulting sunshine cast heavy black shadows of the building and people on the surrounding plaza.

The sessions draw a veritable army of attendants, from the sentinels who guard the hall year round, to the special police, K9 units and firefighters brought in to prevent and contain any threats to the safety of participants.

Also a lively presence are the young, mostly female ushers who make sure the participants find their seats and the leaders always have a steaming cup of tea ready by their elbow.