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As Hurricane Irma charged toward Florida’s coast last month, officials held a news conference to warn residents of the mandatory evacuation. However, hearing-impaired Americans were horrified by the sign language interpreter, who was seen saying something about “pizza” and “bear monster”.

When it came to broadcasting supreme leader Xi Jinping’s keynote report at the 19th Party Congress, similar mistakes were unthinkable.

The biggest challenge? Xi’s speech took about 210 minutes. And somewhat surprisingly – given the importance of the event – Zhou Ye was only informed she would be doing the signing a day before the summit began. More daunting still: Zhou only had a chance to read Xi’s 32,000-word keynote speech 40 minutes before he started talking. Adding to her discomfort: she had to sit on a backless chair so that her signing could be seen clearly on TV screens. “My shoulders and waist were so stiff that I could barely stand after the live broadcast,” Zhou told Beijing Evening News.

The first time viewers got to see Zhou’s sign language skills was during former Premier Wen Jiabao’s maiden government work report. On that occasion he kept things shorter – just 53 minutes.

Alongside Xi himself – whose vocal chords lasted for the marathon period of the speech – the 54 year-old has also shown her considerable powers of endurance.

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