“What makes a rubber stamp?”

The Economist on the National People’s Congress:

Yet many in China take the term as an insult, feeling that it belittles the institutions and procedures by which the nation makes its laws.

Not long after the close of the 2010 NPC, your correspondent moderated a panel at Beijing’s Renmin University, where one of the panellists veered off topic to criticise western media for their biased coverage of China. The panellist, Yang Rui, a popular and often truculent host of a political talk show on state-run China Central Television (CCTV), said he found the “rubber-stamp” comparison particularly galling. When, he asked, would the foreign media finally stop using the term “rubber-stamp” to describe China’s parliament?

The answer to that question should be obvious: when it finally rejects something put before it.

In 1992, the NPC caused something of a stir when only 1,767 delegates, two-thirds of the total, voted to approve the massive and massively controversial Three Gorges Dam project. There were 177 votes against, 644 votes to abstain, and 25 delegates who failed to vote at all.

In other cases where reports or candidates are approved by less than 75%, it is seen as a clear rebuke to the leadership.

None of this is to say that the NPC is entirely irrelevant. In important ways, the NPC—as an institution—has become more interesting than its ritual-laden yearly sessions would indicate. Its full-time professional staff has grown in size and professionalism. In the course of drafting legislation, it has taken great strides in reaching out to social stakeholders and soliciting their input. Often it even pushes back against the Communist party leadership by insisting on substantial revisions to draft laws before moving them along.

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