BEIJING — On national TV, Ma Shanxiang tells people how to best solve quarrels with their neighbors, Tashi shares new developments of his Tibetan school, and Yao Ming encourages teenagers to play basketball.
Welcome to China’s “passage interview”, a live broadcast that presents China through the stories of common people as well as international superstars.
The broadcast is part of the country’s two sessions, an important annual event in China’s political calendar which sees the gathering of thousands of national legislators and political advisors in Beijing.
The two sessions serve as a window for observers to closely watch where the world’s second-largest economy is heading.
For years, domestic and foreign news media have squeezed into press conferences and political meetings, trying to create stories from statements of political heavyweights during the two-week event.
Today, the stories might come from somewhere else — personal experiences of legislators and advisors who pass through the lobby of the Great Hall of the People to attend the plenary meetings.
China first broadcast the “passage interviews” with lawmakers and political advisors during the national two sessions in 2018. This year, many local two sessions which preceded the national one, also adopted similar live broadcasts.
Lawmakers and political advisors from across the country, different professions, and different ethnicities, answered questions during the interviews.
The agenda is extensive this year. Scientists hinted China’s plans for space and AI. Officials introduced the latest local developments on the country’s grand strategies such as the Xiongan New Area and the Greater Bay Area. Local-level workers told stories of the people and regions they represent.
The interviewees answered questions, voiced problems and often struck a constructive note in their answers.
“We not only present problems facing our jobs and society at the sessions but also focus on their causes and solutions,” said Ma Shanxiang, a legal mediator in Southwest China’s Chongqing municipality, who did a passage interview this year.
Ma, with more than 30 years of experience working for a local community, shared his dispute-solving solutions during the interview.
Over the years, Ma has resolved more than 2,000 disputes ranging from family quarrels to bigger issues like rallies against local government’s relocation programs or dissatisfaction with layoffs at state-owned companies.
“We are the ones who face the problems directly,” he said, “and during the passage interview, we speak from our experience to show people what the society is really like.”
Like Ma, several lawmakers who head poverty-stricken villages voiced problems during their interviews, such as poor network coverage in remote areas, lack of garbage disposal facilities, and insufficient access to employment information.
Addressing these issues on live national TV marks the Chinese government’s attitude towards greater openness.
It’s also a snapshot of Chinese democracy — devoid of partisan fights or destructive critiques, and in favor of diverse voices and consensus.
During one passage interview, three political advisors from the Mongolian, Tibetan and Uygur ethnicities dressed in traditional clothes and stood behind the microphones to take questions from the press.
Tashi, a Tibetan language teacher from a primary school in Southwest China’s Tibet autonomous region, introduced the changes happening in his school, while behind him stood his interpreter who translated his words into Mandarin.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in a county, a township or a village, the most beautiful building in Tibet must be its school,” Tashi said.
Built in 1990, his school had only eight teachers, 108 students and one teaching building. “But now it has 155 teachers, 2,112 students and three big teaching buildings equipped with advanced teaching equipment,” he said.
An Australian reporter from Hong Kong Satellite Television, who only gave his Chinese name as Maizi, watched Tashi’s interview.
He was impressed by many topics mentioned by the political advisors. “Such progress made in remote places shows the Chinese government’s strong support for the development of Tibet. I’m looking forward to the region’s further progress in the future,” he said.
Maizi has been in China for 13 years and can speak fluent Mandarin. It’s his first time to report on the “two sessions.”
He said the passage interviews can help the world better understand China. “They can help reporters and common people better understand the stories across China, even in its remote corners.”