Rebellion stirs within China's Great Hall

FThe annual meeting of the National People's Congress rarely deviates from its pre-scripted performance. But yesterday China's rubber-stamp parliament bounced back with an unusual demonstration of independent thought. In what should have been the routine confirmation of two new vice-prime ministers, well over one-third of the delegates voted against one of the nominations, while support for the other candidate was less than overwhelming.

The protest votes were not, of course, enough to block the planned appointments, which had been widely expected for weeks. But a wave of murmurs swept through the Great Hall of the People when the scoreboard lit up with the voting tally for Jiang Chunyun, who, as a vice- prime minister will take on the key task of overseeing agriculture in China.

Of the 2,752 delegates who had turned up for the session (which meant 59 had either overslept, gone shopping or were out doing business), a surprising 605 voted against Mr Jiang, 391 abstained, and 10 could not be bothered to operate one of their voting buttons. That left only 63 per cent voting in favour, rather a low level in a one-party state. Such defiance from the normally acquiescent NPC is embarrassing for the Prime Minister, Li Peng, who proposed the candidates, and President Jiang Zemin, whose position they were supposed to bolster.

The other nomination, of Wu Bangguo, received 2,366 votes in favour, or 86 per cent, 210 against and 161 abstentions. Fifteen delegates failed to vote. Mr Wu's portfolio will be industry and reform of state-owned enterprises. With the two new additions, there are now six vice-prime ministers.

Last September Mr Jiang and Mr Wu, both Politburo members, were promoted within the Communist Party to join the Central Committee's secretariat. Mr Jiang, 64, a former party boss of Shandong, is described in his official biography as "open-minded, honest, pragmatic, strict with himself, and lives a simple and frugal life". NPC delegates yesterday saw it differently, citing various reasons for the large vote against him: "he's too old"; "he has not held enough senior jobs"; and, "he has not solved certain problems in Shandong". These "problems" have included widespread corruption as foreign investment poured into the province's booming economy. Delegates also said he has little agricultural expertise.

Mr Wu, 53, like President Jiang a former Shanghai party boss, is part of the "Shanghai clique", a group of allies put in place by the President to shore up his position in the post-Deng Xiaoping era. Opposition to his appointment as vice-prime minister may have resulted from the disquiet at the disproportionate number of Shanghai officials now in power.

Diplomats said that the unprecedented level of opposition votes was an indication that the NPC could possibly develop into a more meaningful body under its chairman, Qiao Shi. Mr Qiao is expected to be a key figure in any struggle following the death of the ailing patriarch, Mr Deng.

The NPC first flexed its muscles in 1992, when about 200 deputies voted against the controversial Three Gorges dam project, and many more abstained or stayed away. Then in 1993, about 10 per cent of the deputies did not support Mr Li's re-election as Prime Minister. Another test for him will come today, when the NPC closes its annual session with a vote on his "work report" on the government. Many delegates have voiced dissatisfaction at his failure to offer specific measures to tackle the country's economic problems and corruption.

While the NPC's delegates may be learning to think for themselves, some other aspects of the congress, however, show no sign of changing. Yesterday a guard was placed by the large window on the main staircase up to the public gallery of the Great Hall of the People. His job was to leap up and sharply move on any passers-by, particularly foreign journalists, who showed signs of lingering by the window, perchance to glance down at the private courtyard where dozens of Mercedes-Benzes and Audis used by the senior leadership were parked.

The "foreign spies", it was explained, might take note of the number plates. Or perhaps wonder about the supposed crackdown on imported luxury cars.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right