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And now, I'll take your questions
( 2004-01-05 11:39) (China Daily)

She enjoys shopping for clothes, and the habit comes in handy for her occupation. She likes to experiment with cooking recipes, yet she has to tone down her innovative spirit when dealing with job-related details.

She is Zhang Qiyue, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Whether in the limelight or out of it, she has poise and panache galore. Her confidence and intelligence shine through her slightly-guarded, but always-attentive appearance.

"I honestly did not know why I was picked for the post in October 1998. I consider myself to enjoy working in a low-profile way. But my superiors specified they wanted a woman. That must have kept many of my more qualified male colleagues out,?she reveals as she lets out a glimmer of her self-effacing nature.

Zhang emphasizes in an interview with China Daily that she cannot take all the credit for her performance in the spotlight. "I have a team of colleagues working with me, and we have meetings every day. A lot of work by various departments in the ministry goes into what I say in front of the camera,?she says.

She makes it a habit to keep on top of things happening in her field ?and that is as wide as the whole world ?by reading several major newspapers every day and browsing the Internet for the latest news in addition to the piles of internal files. More importantly, she is constantly in touch with departments that handle foreign affairs with various countries. Before each briefing, she spends roughly one hour preparing for it.

Zhang reveals that she has not received any formal training in speech-making or public appearances. "But when I stepped onto that podium, I gained confidence. I felt I had prepared for it all my professional life.?

From 1995 to 1998, she was a diplomat with the Chinese permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. "Every diplomat is, in a sense, a spokesperson because he or she has to promote the country and policies to the outside world. That's why I did not feel strange when I became the official spokeswoman as it is, in essence, a continuation of the work I had done before.?

The Foreign Ministry's spokesperson mechanism came into being in 1983, the year Zhang joined the foreign ministry after her graduation from Beijing Foreign Studies University. It evolved from simple statement-reading to gradually opening the floor for questions. By 1995, it was increased to twice weekly -?both with Q&A sessions. "It is a witness to, and a product of, our country's reform and opening up,?says Zhang.

Zhang is up-front about her job objective. "It's not about personal image. I'm there to project China's image to the outside world. It should be the image of a big country that is open, mature, amicable and responsible.?

To more effectively reach the goal, she makes herself accessible to the foreign press by accompanying them in some of their reporting tours across the nation. Some of the reporters have privately told her that her ease of manners and unflappability have made them more comfortable posing relentless questions.

"I take every question as a tricky one,?she responds when China Daily asks her about the most tricky question she has ever fielded. "I take every one of them very seriously.?

Zhang admits that she does study her counterparts from other countries. However, she does not feel there is any fundamental difference. "We basically have the same function ?that is, to accurately convey the policies of our respective governments. None is standing there to show him, or herself, off.?

She adds that it is hard to compare one with another, but China's foreign ministry's spokesperson mechanism is very open now and there is no limit to what kind of questions that can be raised. "I always tell them that they can ask me whatever they want; but what I'll answer is up to me.?

Zhang takes caution not to colour her tone with personal emotion. "Calm and assured?is always the way to go. But she takes care not to include bureaucratic cliches and jargon so often associated with government documents. "I want to be colloquial and simple. I paraphrase those cliches whenever I can.?

Twenty years of her diplomatic career have taken her all over the world, yet she finds time for her role as mother and wife and is equally happy standing behind a kitchen sink. "I don't have a maid, and I do housecleaning once a week, just to unwind.?And she is proud of it.

Zhang's passion for life comes across in big strides and small detail. She single-handedly designed the interior of her apartment, creating a personal style of warmth and simplicity. She collects postage stamps, key cards and miscellaneous things, "but I'm never obsessive and now I've stopped buying mementos from each country I visit because I don't want to cramp my home with too much stuff.?

Quality time with her family is not something she takes lightly. When the Foreign Ministry theatre showed Hero, Zhang Yimou's much-hyped epic, she had a sneak preview of about 10 minutes. She decided she liked it. So, she arranged a special time to see it with her husband and son. "Nowadays, I try to watch many of the big-name new releases with them because I don't want to be left out of family conversations.?

Her 16-year-old son, in senior high-school, has not shown any particular career inclination. "He is into basketball,?says Zhang, "and he gives me encouraging words whenever I need them.?

Zhang does not have a wardrobe or makeup assistant. "I take care of these things myself.?When she first started, she had friends in the media or public relations whose advice she would occasionally seek, but she has always been pretty comfortable making all the fashion decisions. As one of China's most visible public personalities in the international arena, Zhang does not have a special dressing room, either. There is one large closet and one half-body mirror in her sparsely-furnished office, which makes one wonder where she stores all her wardrobe.

"I leave some at home,?she laughs. "There's not much room for creativity in dressing or hair-do in this line of work. Besides, I'm not an actress or a model. What's important is the message I convey, and the way I look should not work to distract from it.?

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