BEIJING, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Reciting an adapted poem by an unknown author from late leader Mao Zedong's works, Yao Tandong made fun of the heavy smog that has plagued Beijing over the past months.
But Yao's audience was in no way a group of nobodies. Among them was one of the country's top leaders, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
Xi was attending a group discussion of political advisors from the sectors of science and technology at the annual political session, the country's top political arena where issues of importance are deliberated and decisions made by lawmakers and discussed by advisors from across the nation.
Yao, a researcher on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is particularly concerned about the deteriorating air conditions in Beijing as well as in other parts of the country.
"It is a tremendous task to build a beautiful China and protect its environment," Yao said. "To address air pollution needs concerted efforts in many aspects such as social management, scientific research and engineering. It is a systemic project."
Xi, after a brief laugh at the ironic poem, turned solemn upon Yao's remarks about the air.
Media coverage of Yao's unorthodoxy went viral online, with some Internet users expressing their surprise at the boldness of the scientist.
"It is the responsibility of a political advisor to tell the truth, to expose the problems, and to try to solve them," Yao said.
Yao is not the only one who become more outspoken and critical at this year's political sessions, at which there are much fewer yawns but more wrangling.
At a gathering convened to extend Lunar New Year's greetings to people from non-Communist parties last month, Xi urged the Communist Party of China to be more tolerant of criticism and receptive to different views.
"The Party should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not," he said.
Xi's "New Deal" after his crowning as the Party's top leader in November went even farther.
Apart from a campaign to crack down on waste of food at banquets, the central authority has taken the lead to change work styles, canceling red-carpet receptions or traffic-controls for senior officials' motorcades.
Lengthy reports have also been cut short to improve clarity and efficiency, and to take on more substantial and practical issues.
In the government work report delivered at the opening of the national legislature's annual session, Premier Wen Jiabao called for changes of the growth model and a shift of priority to the well-being of the people.
The 15,000-word report, the media later found, is the shortest of its kind made by the premier over the past decade.
"In a sign of changing styles, the language in Wen's report is much plainer than the often turbid phrasing of years past," an Associated Press report said.
Changes, big or small, can be found almost everywhere. The outcry for changes rising from the political circle is blowing a touch of fresh air even into people's daily lives.
The government-initiated "empty plate" drive is evolving into a trend among both officials and the public, some of whom used to turn a blind eye at waste.
At a buffet luncheon for journalists covering the political sessions, a reporter requested a glass from a waitress for some juice.
"May I have a larger one, please?" the reporter asked.
"That's ok, but you are not supposed to waste any," the waitress reminded him.
"Of course not," the reporter said.
(With reportings by Xinhua correspondents Ren Qinqin and Zhang Zhanpeng)