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China's leadership change is disturbing the corridors of power

Officials at some top-level Chinese government meetings have been banned from simply reading their notes and have been encouraged to engage in real discussion.

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China's new Politburo Standing Committee members (l. to r.) Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng, and Wang Qishan line up as they meet with the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last month.

Carlos Barria/REUTERS

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As China-watchers worldwide debate whether the new Communist Party leaders here will be able to push through the sort of political and economic changes that almost everyone agrees the country needs, a little noticed but possibly revolutionary reform appears to already be under way.

Officials and experts at some top-level Chinese government meetings have been banned from simply reading their notes, and have instead been encouraged to speak spontaneously and engage in real discussion.

Nothing quite like it has disturbed the corridors of power for a generation.

“It was fresh and new and we had to concentrate,” says Zhou Shuzhen about a meeting she attended last week chaired by the anticorruption czar Wang Qishan, a member of the new seven-man Standing Committee of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo.

“He said from the start that he wanted us to think hard instead of just reading our notes, says Professor Zhou, who teaches politics at Renmin University in Beijing. “That was a good sign.”

Li Keqiang, the party’s No. 2, stunned a meeting of provincial officials two weeks ago by interrupting one of them only a couple of minutes into his report on water pricing, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

“I’ve read your report,” Mr. Li reportedly said bluntly, before asking a pointed question about its contents.

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