Reporters on the Job

Red Moon Rising: Staff writer Peter Ford, who is based in Beijing, has been watching the 17th Congress of the Communist Party closely this week (see stories). A major event happening only once every five years, it apparently can inspire unusual enthusiasm on the part of some delegates.

"China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, suggested Thursday that Chinese spacemen might start a branch of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in outer space," Peter says.

Mr. Yang, a delegate to the 17th Congress, foresaw the day when residents of a Chinese space station would "carry out the regular activities of a CPC branch in space in the way we do on Earth, such as learning the party's policies and exchanging opinions on the party's decisions," says the official Xinhua news agency.

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His idealism did not, Peter says, appear to stretch to proposing that the three-man crew of the Shenzhou VII rocket, due to go into orbit next year for a space-walk experiment, should also find the time to found a party cell. The Constitution allows grass-roots groups of three or more members.

All 14 of China's astronaut team are members of the Communist Party. It is unclear how Yang's aspirations will affect officials' stated hopes of cooperating with international space projects such as the International Space Station, where US and European astronauts would be unlikely to take kindly to late-night debate on the nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

– Amelia Newcomb

Deputy World editor

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