Shen Jilan poses for a photo during the fourth session of the 12th National People's Congress in Beijing, capital of China, March 11, 2016. (Xinhua/Jin Liangkuai)
Donning an ordinary blue suit and newly dyed hair, 89-year-old Shen Jilan is here in Beijing to serve as a deputy to the first session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.
Shen, the longest-serving lawmaker in China, has served for all 13 terms of the NPC, ever since it was established in 1954.
During this session, she is among 742 female deputies out of a total of 2,980 lawmakers elected nationwide.
"Nowadays, women hold up half the sky. They can do all kinds of jobs like men can," said Shen.
Born in Pingshun County in north China's Shanxi Province in 1929, Shen Jilan moved to Xigou Village in the same county after marriage.
While in her 20s, she became an icon for leading other women in her village to learn farming techniques. In the 1950s, she won equal pay for equal work for village women who did farm work.
Her reputation as a leader in the liberation of women earned her the opportunity to attend the second World Women's Congress held in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1953.
A year later, Shen, who was 25 at the time, was elected a deputy to the first National People's Congress.
"There were about 1,200 deputies to the first NPC session," she recalled. "Women accounted for only 147. I just could not help being excited as the session went on."
To get to the capital, she left the village on the back of a donkey, then traveled by truck and finally train. She likes to recount the four-day trek in interviews.
But thanks to today's high-speed trains, she can arrive in Beijing in the morning and return home in the afternoon.
"It's so fast. This is China speed," she said.
In the past half-century, the village of Xigou has also undergone major changes at "China speed." As the deputy party secretary of the village, Shen led villagers in planting nearly 1,333 hectares of forest, 20 hectares of orchards and 30,000 walnut trees.
"The environment has improved and rural tourism is heating up," Shen said. She has made several proposals to the NPC to improve environmental protection in rural areas.
Shen always reiterates that she is a farmer and she speaks for farmers. Many of the proposals she has made have borne fruit. In 2016, the average annual net income in Xigou reached nearly 8,000 yuan (around 1,265 U.S. dollars).
"We have enough food and clothing, and we have moved to new houses and enjoy medical care. I could not imagine all these hard-earned achievements in the past," said Shen.
Even now that she's in her 80s, Shen is still energetic. She watches the evening news and pay home visits in the village before attending the annual session of the NPC.
She said her motion this year will focus on poverty reduction.
"The countryside develops slower than the city, but it never stops making progress," said Shen.