Delegates to China's legislature, the National People's Congress, are working to find solutions to major problems facing the country.  Leaders say two of the most important priorities include:  how to curb inflation and how to improve livelihoods for ordinary people.  VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

The National People's Congress opened March 5 with what leaders say is a new focus:  ordinary people.

Congress deputy Deng Zeyong brought his concerns about agriculture with him when he came to Beijing from tropical Hainan Island, 3,000 kilometers to the south. He says, "I am very interested in the government's agricultural policy, which is meant to guide farmers and encourage more agricultural enterprise."

For Zheng Xinshui, a deputy from central Hubei province, the issue is economic development and enterprise reform.

"We're very concerned about scientific development, environmental protection and doing good for the society," Xinshui said.

Another deputy, Xu Ruixia, voiced concern about health care, "We especially have to resolve the high costs of medical treatment and the difficulty in getting it."

Inside the Great Hall of the People, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao addressed these concerns in his lengthy work report on the government's achievements in the past five years and plans for the near future.

He said China's economic growth will continue, but hopefully not at the expense of the Chinese people.

"Only by appropriately spreading the fruits of economic development among the people can we win their support and maintain social harmony and stability," Jiabao said.

For the Chinese government, putting a priority on public welfare is a new thing.  So says American Sidney Rittenberg.  He spent 35 years in China.  Nearly half of that time, he was in prison.

"People (now) come first in China,? Rittenberg said.  ?And that's the exact opposite of the old days, of Mao's day, when the people put the (Communist) Party first, the people put the State first.  Now the leadership is saying put the people first."

Rittenberg recently spoke to foreign journalists in Beijing.  He is optimistic about the possibility for political change in China, but said he does not expect anything drastic at this session, "I think the tendency is to keep everything stable until after the Olympics.  Don't rock the boat.  So, anything that might require contention, internally, I think they're going to avoid until next year, at least."

As with any big event in China, security is tight.

And, despite the government's new rhetoric about putting people first, Tiananmen Square, which is across the street from the Great Hall of the People, was completely cleared of ordinary people.  It is being used instead to park the cars and buses that shuttle deputies from their hotels to the meeting.