A wider view of China’s Congress
By Carlos Barria
China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition was for me a great opportunity to photograph an event that, although it all happens behind closed doors, still offers an interesting kind of visual access.
For example, the 18th Party Congress, where China ordained its new leadership, was a unique opportunity for journalists to wander around – with fewer restrictions than normal — in the Great Hall of the People. As a first-timer, I found the building itself imposing, and full of details and un-explored corners.
I thought it would be interesting to try using a panoramic format this time, to give a sense of the officialdom surrounding the event, and the large, intimidating spaces where it was all happening. Panoramas also helped me to see more than one scene in a single picture.
The rigid and secretive atmosphere, contrasted with the warm light of the Hall’s interior, gave the place a strange feeling. There were watchers sitting erect in dark suits, guarding access to doors, walkways and elevators, as if they were part of the décor.
One very cold morning, soldiers stood in the emblematic Tiananmen Square in front of the Great Hall. It was empty and heavily secured. As the sun rose, a long line of buses transporting party delegates arrived and the show began. Delegates from every corner of China walked into the building to attend an opening speech by outgoing President Hu Jintao.
As I walked into the building I felt small. There were tall ceilings and long red carpets as visual introductions to the place where heavy decisions were being taken, affecting 1.3 billion Chinese.
A man in his 50s cleaned a black Audi in a parking lot where dozens of cars and drivers waited for high-ranking party members who were attending the opening session. Standing out in the sea of black, was a white sedan.
The Congress lasted a week and on the final day delegates chose the 350-member Central Committee, and made an amendment to the party charter.
The next day, after months of speculation and anticipation, the all-powerful seven-man Politburo Standing Committee silently took the stage, and China’s new leadership line-up was finally unveiled.