Many of the quirkier or more high-reaching proposals aren’t likely to become law. Instead, they serve as an opportunity for attendees to go beyond their rubber-stamp duties and offer their own solutions to China’s socioeconomic issues.
“It is an opportunity for a delegate to stand out and be noticed, especially if they are proposing an issue that is becoming salient,” said Anthony Saich, the director of the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia and the Daewoo Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government.
That gives the attendees a chance to actually affect policy.
“Certain livelihood issues can be considered or spur the government into action,” said Christopher McNally, professor of political economy at Chaminade University of Honolulu.
Here are some noteworthy proposals this year from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body which meets at the same time as China’s parliament:
Ditching the two-day weekend
One controversial proposal from delegate Xiong Shuilong, a representative of Guangdong province, would completely change the work week as we know it. He argued for the country to swap the traditional two-day weekend to one that involves alternating six-day and four-day workweeks.
As Xiong sees it, the Saturday-Sunday system isn’t conducive for domestic tourism, since people usually reserve extended travel for China’s limited number of week-long public holiday periods. By switching things up, people would get more three-day weekends over which they might be inclined to travel, even if that means having to take one-day breaks on alternating Wednesdays.
The suggestion has already backfired. Many users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo service greeted the proposal with cynicism, saying they already face having to work weekends.
“I will thank the heavens if we mandate two-day weekends first,” one wrote.
‘Forest food’ as a demand driver
Proposals focused on how to revive the domestic economy are in abundance at the meeting, given the importance that consumption is expected to play in the economic rebound.
One idea is to create a national development plan for so-called “forest food,” or edible items like honey and fruits that are found or made in the forest. The thinking is that those products are not reliant on traditional agriculture, and so present an alternative way to increase the food supply.
Reversing the decline in birth rates
Several proposals took a stab at stemming the decline in China’s population, with particular emphasis on ways to raise the birth rate — a concern that Harvard’s Saich noted has been top of mind for President Xi Jinping.
Incentivize more births
One proposal would incentivize more births by offering free kindergarten-to-university education for a family’s third child. The government has been easing birth limits after for decades only allowing couples to have a single child, but the population has continued to decline.
Another delegate keyed in on the rising costs of betrothal gifts as a possible reason why less couples are tying the knot. Shi Bingqi suggested discouraging the custom of offering presents like jewelry and other items to brides’ families by subsidizing wedding costs for those who choose to avoid the practice, which sometimes operate like dowries.
Textbook screening and Chinese language rules
A popular nationalist blogger and delegate is seeking to make his mark this year after proposing a new rule to solicit public feedback for textbook content before publication.
Zhou Xiaoping — who catapulted to fame in 2014 after Xi praised the “positive energy” in his patriotic essays — put forward his plan after a public outcry last year over the illustrations in a set of its primary school textbooks. The designs were criticized as ugly, pornographic and racist.
He also suggested requiring foreigners seeking to work or study in China to pass a Chinese proficiency test before they are allowed to submit an application.