Delegates listen to speeches at the open
Frederic J. Brown  /  AFP via Getty Images
Delegates of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference hear speeches on "social harmony" and warnings against Taiwan independence at the opening session of their annual meeting in Beijing on Friday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/3/2006 4:01:10 PM ET 2006-03-03T21:01:10

Rural development and currency reform are the core issues at China’s annual session of parliament. But delegates from the 2,000-strong group hail from a wide range of backgrounds, and some will be raising subjects that are generally taboo within mainstream politics — including gay marriage.

The massive Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress opened Friday. It is supposed to advise the smaller National People's Congress, or parliament, which opens on Sunday. But in reality, neither body wields much more than advisory power.

Thus, it is now possible for Li Yinhe, a sociologist and member of the advisory body to parliament, to submit a proposal on same-sex marriage, aiming to end discrimination against homosexuality — until 2001 considered a mental disorder in China.

Li has submitted the proposal twice before, but it was shelved after it failed to gain the minimum support of 30 members, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

Li, who was to deliver a keynote speech at a gay culture festival last year that was raided by police and shut down, admitted that the “cultural environment in the country is not yet prepared for such a proposal.”

But she argued that allowing gay marriage would promote stable relationships and safe sex, and thereby curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Li was not the only delegate pushing issues that China’s top leaders, consumed by a growing gap between rich and poor that is fuelling unrest, have likely never considered.

Chen Guiyun, a delegate from the southwestern province of Sichuan, is calling for legislation to ban smoking in public places, shocked by the fact that nearly half of China’s 1.3 billion people suffer from passive smoking, Xinhua said.

Chinese are the world’s largest consumer of cigarettes; the nation has about 350 million smokers and tobacco kills 1.2 million people in the country a year. Tobacco also raises a mammoth chunk of government revenues each year.

Another delegate is arguing that China should reinstate compulsory premarital medical examinations to reduce cases of hereditary and epidemic diseases, according to the People's Daily newspaper.

Despite the growing role of the public in influencing policy, there is a limit to Beijing's tolerance for outspoken critics.

Petitioners arrested, sent home, and worse
In the run-up to the annual government meetings, the government detained people who traveled  to the capital hoping to petition the government with grievances, activists and human rights groups said Friday.

Thousands of people visit Beijing each year during the 10-day legislative session, hoping to air complaints about corruption and other problems. Police routinely detain them and send them home.

This year, those detained or warned against attending the parliament session include AIDS patients who want better medical care and people who have petitioned the government over the loss of their homes for redevelopment.

Liu Xinjuan, an activist who has complained about homes being demolished without proper compensation, was sent home to Shanghai from Beijing and forced into a mental hospital, said New York-based Human Rights in China.

A woman who answered the phone at Shanghai’s Minxin Mental Health Center confirmed Friday that Liu was there. The woman, who identified herself only by the surname Zhang, refused to give details about Liu’s case or say when she would be released.

Ji Wenpai, a Beijing woman who says her house outside the capital was demolished in 2004 without compensation, said Friday that police were blocking her and her husband from going into the city during the parliament.

Ji, 46, said her family now lives with her husband’s parents.

“Now the police are outside my in-laws’ home,” Ji said in a telephone interview. “Yesterday, two police officers came to the house and took my phone book away,” apparently to keep her from contacting people outside.

“If I go shopping, the police follow me,” she said.

In addition, 10 people from the central province of Henan who say they were infected with the AIDS virus by an unsanitary blood-buying industry have been warned by police to stay away from the capital, said Wan Yanhai, a Beijing health activist.

Zhang Jianping, who said he was paralyzed after being struck by a car owned by a forestry official, said six police officers were outside his home in the eastern city of Yixing to keep him from going to Beijing.

“I hope every person in China can fully enjoy citizen’s rights, whether they’re rich or poor,” said the unemployed former chemical plant manager. “I hope China can bring about democracy and a clean judicial system in the near future.”

Long tradition of petition
China has a centuries-old tradition of people from the provinces coming to the capital to appeal for attention for problems ranging from abusive local officials to land disputes.

The practice has continued in the communist era, despite the government’s creation of a nationwide network of complaint offices that are supposed to hear and resolve grievances.

Petitioners include farmers who have lost their land, laid off workers who say they were cheated of unemployment benefits and people who say they were mistreated by officials enforcing China’s strict birth control policies.

In many cases, people complain that local officials try to suppress embarrassing information. But the central government also takes part in the suppression of complaints, organizing police throughout China to collect detained petitioners in Beijing and return them to their hometowns, sometimes by the busload.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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