For the first time, the Communist Party of China's highest-ranking publicity officials opened the doors of their offices, offering an opportunity for foreign diplomats to get a glimpse of the "mysterious and low-profile" Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee.
The rare occasion on Thursday attracted 51 ambassadors and ministers from 49 countries and the Delegation of the European Union to China, who were invited by the International Department of the CPC Central Committee.
"I am very delighted to receive our friends foreign diplomats here at the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee," Luo Shugang, vice-minister of the department, said at a welcome ceremony.
"The reasons we invited you to come here today are to provide a platform for you, through visit and discussions, to know more about the department and to enable more friends from the international community to know about it through (your introduction)."
After the vice-minister's speech, Luo Yang, a worker with the cultural restructuring and development office under the department, led the visitors to a wall displaying the history and functions of the publicity department. Also on the wall was the department's organizational structure chart, which lists the 17 organs within the department.
"The structural chart is very interesting and informative," Ioanna Malliotis, ambassador of Cyprus, told China Daily. "I've never seen it before."
Introductions about the department's structure found by China Daily on the Internet are usually vague and still refer to unverified information dating back two or three decades.
In front of the wall, Luo Yang explained to the visitors the major works the department undertakes, which include performing and organizing theoretical research and publicity, regulating, coordinating and supporting journalistic activities, launching education campaigns on morality and ethics, as well as facilitating cultural events.
All the diplomats listened carefully to her introduction while some of them made notes on their booklets during the presentation.
At the end of the general briefing, the visitors were divided into two groups and respectively led to the information bureau, where they were told by Ming Lizhi, bureau director, about the bureau's tasks and achievements.
After a tour of the bureau's three exhibition rooms, which display the Party's past and current publications and its publicity instruments in the age of multimedia, the diplomats swarmed into several bureau offices and questioned officials working there.
"Who works here? Journalists? And why are your offices so clean?" asked a diplomat whose identity China Daily reporter was unable to identify due to an inconvenient distance.
Director Ming responded by saying the bureau employs no journalists, and the officials are requested to keep their offices clean, which aroused loud laughter from the diplomats.
Standing in front of a picture displayed in the bureau, Ambassador of Hungary Sandor Kusai shared a light moment with his hosts.
"I was sitting right there," Kusai said, pointing to the picture of people attending the ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in July 2011. "And with a magnifying glass you can even single me out."
At the theory bureau, diplomats watched the bureau officials and theory experts reviewing an episode of the Q&A on Theoretical Focuses, which aims to answer the public's questions over some theoretical issues and will be broadcast on China Central Television in July.
The visitors also observed a seminar promoting Lei Feng spirit at the publicity and education bureau, which was broadcast live online and featured interactions with Internet users. Lei Feng is a People's Liberation Army soldier known for his "selfless service for the people". He died in the line of duty in 1962.
At the height of the event, ambassadors and ministers were guided to a conference hall to meet Liu Yunshan, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and minister of the Publicity Department.
"I think for most of you, the department is both familiar and strange - you may pass along the department many times, but when coming inside the office compound, all things are new to you," Liu said when addressing the visitors.
"We are living in a time of openness, and the connection between China and the world has become increasingly closer," he said. "The progress in every field of human society depends on the exchange and cooperation among countries. And every country should study each other's experiences."
"We sincerely hope to strengthen our communications with you diplomats, and we are determined to study and make use of the experience of governance of political parties and government in your countries to promote cultural exchange and collaboration, thus advancing the development of the human race."
He also pledged to hold more such events for foreign diplomats, saying the department's door is "always open to you".
"Today's event is a good opening for us diplomats stationed in Beijing. It is very important to have knowledge about how the government and the Party works," said Marco Ruiz, Costa Rican ambassador to China. "I think for a party like the CPC, so big, it is important to have their achievements be known by everyone and to keep informing people what they do."
"I am very surprised by the openness the department officials are showing us on some specific issues. It is impressive," said Yahya Al-Zaid, ambassador of Saudi Arabia.
"After this visit, I know much more now. This is really something that promotes the understanding between the diplomatic community and the Communist Party of China, and the more we know about it, the more we understand how to make friends with the Party."
"What interests me most is the department's use of the Internet to gather information in order to follow up-to-date questions emerging in society. Analyzing those questions will help work out answers and solutions, so I am quite impressed," said Sandor Kusai, ambassador of Hungary.
"I have had almost all of my questions answered here, and if I have further opportunity to raise more questions, I will focus on the use of new social media," Kusai said, noting he is looking forward to future communications with the publicity department.
This is not the first time that a top Party organ has opened its doors to foreign diplomats.
On April 12, 2011, 47 diplomats from more than 40 countries and international organizations were invited to visit the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC and briefed about China's battle against corruption.
Two months later, in June 2011, 54 senior diplomats from 50 countries paid a three-hour visit to the large compound of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, meeting top Party personnel officials and having their curiosity about CPC's organization works satiated.