After retiring as the foreign minister and maintaining a low profile for about two years, 69-year-old Li Zhaoxing yesterday returned to spotlight with his trademark humor and Shandong dialect.
As the spokesman for the second session of the 11th NPC, Li took 12 questions from domestic and foreign reporters, ranging from the country's military budget, economic downturn, and political reform, to the recent Christie's auction of two stolen Chinese relics at a press conference.
The conference, held at the Great Hall of the People, was constantly interrupted by laughter, triggered by Li's unique sense of humor and impulsive responses.
While answering a rather sensitive question from a Russian reporter on China's military budget, Li said: "Thank you for raising the question and giving me the chance to clarify certain misleading information some of your colleagues have spread. I suggest you take notes carefully. Just a good memory isn't sufficient for so many figures."
When asked of the difference in serving the Foreign Ministry and the NPC, Li replied: "You've touched a sensitive spot I have a lot to say."
Li then turned nostalgic while answering a question about Taiwan."Taiwan often came to my mind when I was at school, reading the story Goddess patches up the sky," he said.
"Although the goddess worked very hard, she still couldn't patch up the sky in Ya'an, one of China's scenic spots. As a result, it rains a lot there.
"Instead, the goddess moved the construction material, nice and of good quality, to the east and formed the islands of Hainan and Taiwan."
Responding to a question on government expenditure, Li said he didn't even know the daily expenditure of his own family.
"It's the most difficult question put to me in years," he said.
Besides his natural sense of humor, Li's heavy Shandong dialect only made his answers more amusing.
"It's really hard to change the Shandong dialect, because it's the voice of the Confucius and Mencius. It's heavy because there's so much history in it," he once said.
The conference, scheduled for an hour, lasted for almost two. Xu Jingbo, the editor of the Japan-based Asian News Agency, thought Li was brilliant in the press conference. "Li's answers, though humorous, are well to the point. It shows his rich knowledge of historical and diplomatic issues."
(China Daily 03/05/2009 page5)