China today ended its most open and freewheeling parliamentary session in many years with a series of final votes in which some delegates went to the extraordinary length of registering public dissents. s
Although the number of dissenters was small -- no more than four of the 3,200 delegates opposed or abstained on any issue -- Chinese attending the session said they could not remember when such a session had ever ended in the past without complete unanimity.
Many delegates to the National People's Congress also demanded new powers to erase their reputation as rubber stamps for the Communist Party and sharply questioned government ministers about mistakes and excesses in the bureaucracy.
Today the delegates also endorsed the central theme of the Congress -- what in China passes for a youth movement -- by appointing three new vice premiers to replace elderly veterans who have given up their government posts. The new appointees included Foreign Minister Huang Hua, 67, Deputy Army Chief of Staff Zhang Aiping, 70, and Nationalities Affairs Commission Minister Yang Jingren, 62.
Their average age of 66 was a sharp drop from the 74.8 average age of five senior party veterans who resigned officially today.
The New China News Agency reporting on a morning session of the Congress that was closed to foreign journalists, said the new vice premiers were named "on the recommendation of" the new State Council premier, Zhao Ziyang. The Congress also officially voted to make Zhao, 61, the third man to serve as head of the government of Communist China. He replaces Hua Guofeng, who remains head of the Communist Party's Central Committee.
Perhaps the oldest of the active state leaders, Congress chairman Ye Jianying, 82, has declined to step down, however. In an ironic moment, Ye finished a speech closing the Congress by asking that "we all raise and give a standing ovation as sincere tribute" to the veteran leaders who had resigned. aThen Ye, who has to be helped into the meeting hall by a young attendant, attempted to struggle to his feet. His attendant, caught by surprise, dashed across the stage and managed to steady him as he swayed before the microphone.
Five elderly vice chairmen of the Congress also resigned -- Nie Rongzhen, Liu Bocheng, Zhang Dingcheng, Cai Chang and Zhou Jianren. Liu, 88, although a member of the party Politburo, has not been seen in public in years. In a resignation letter he applauded the promotion of officials "in their prime of life."
Appointed as new Congress vice chairmen were Shanghai party chief Peng Chong, Guangdong party chief Xi Zhongxum, military commission member Su Yu, Canton party chief Yang Shangkun and the Panchen Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader once cultivated by Peking as an alternative to the self-exiled Dalai Lama.
Chairing today's session was Congress vice chairman and former Peking mayor Peng Zhem, 78, who complained repeatedly as he tried to count votes in the brightly lit Great Hall of the People auditorium that "I really cannot see too clearly." At least once, he announced there were no dissenting votes when foreign journalists, admitted to the Congress for the first time in 20 years, could clearly see too hands raised on the floor. After being brought notes from aides, he twice corrected his tally to add dissenting votes.
The high point of dissent, a total of four abstentions, occurred in the vote on a new marriage law which would raise the minimum age to 22 for men and 20 for women, a two-year increase, and somewhat ease requirements for divorce. The names of the abstainers were not made available, but four Peking delegates, including party veteran Zhang Pinghua, had earlier told the People's Daily they saw no reason for the increases."It would have no effect on population control, because late marriage does not necessarily mean fewer children," they said.
In other dissents, one delegate opposed and one abstained on a new law to prohibit overseas Chinese from holding both Chinese citizenship and citizenship in their country of residence. One delegate abstained on a new law levying a 33 percent tax on foreign firms participating in joint ventures here. One abstained on a law instituting China's first income tax, which will affect only foreigners and about 21 Chinese artists and writers who earn high royalties.
During a series of discussions reported in the official press, delegates strongly supported more powers for the Congress. Army delegate Chen Haosu, 38, claiming "the consensus of opinion among the electors," said "there is a grave tendency to substitute the party for the government" and people feel the power of the Congress is "just to approve" party decisions.He asked for special committees to be set up by the Congress to oversee government work when the delegates, who meet only once a year, are not in session.
In other final action today, the Congress removed from the constitution the "four freedoms" proclaimed by the late party chairman Mao Tse-Tung, "to speak out freely, air views fully, hold great debates and write big-character posters." That constitutional passage sanctioned the wallposter attacks which helped remove several of China's current leaders temporarily from office in the late 1960s. In 1978 the current leadership used a wallposter campaign against their own adversaries, but when it expanded into a youthful pro-democracy movement, they shut down Peking's popular Democracy Wall and announced that the right to wallposters would be eliminated. Peng said after the vote that one delegate had abstained.