People's Democracy
A retrospective on the transformation of China's legislature into a mature political system with Chinese characteristics
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UPDATED: September 15, 2014 NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 18, 2014
People's Democracy
A retrospective on the transformation of China's legislature into a mature political system with Chinese characteristics
By Yin Pumin

MASTERS OF THEIR OWN DESTINY: Deputies from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region cast their votes at the First National People's Congress in 1954 (XINHUA)

GOVERNMENT WORK: Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) delivers a government work report at the First Plenary Session of the Third National People's Congress on December 21, 1964 (XINHUA)

In 1978, China had its third Constitution, which, however, soon proved inconsistent with social changes in the country after the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy.

In 1980, the NPC set up a Constitutional Amendment Committee, starting the amendment work to the Constitution. In April 1982, a draft of the new Constitution was released for a four-month-long nationwide debate, which eventually involved nearly 80 percent of Chinese citizens and resulted in around 100 changes.

In December 1982, the Fifth Session of the Fifth NPC passed the revised Constitution, popularly known as the 1982 Constitution.

"In the 1982 Constitution, the chapter on the fundamental rights and duties of citizens is put ahead of the chapter on the structure of the state," said Han Dayuan, President of the Constitutional Law Institute of the China Law Society and Dean of the Law School of Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

Han said that the Constitution adds some new stipulations regarding the fundamental rights and duties of citizens that were not included in the 1975 and 1978 constitutions.

"The change in the sequence of chapters suggests that state power is subordinate to citizen's rights, that is, the state cannot infringe upon citizen's rights," said Guo Daohui, a consultant at the Jurisprudence Research Association of the China Law Society.

In addition, the 1982 Constitution terminated the lifelong tenure of top state leaders. "Regular leadership reshuffles ensure overall social stability," Han commented.

In the following years, Chinese society underwent dramatic changes. Correspondingly, the text of the 1982 Constitution was revised respectively in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004 to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

In 1988, the private sector was officially acknowledged. The first amendment to the Constitution reads: "The state permits the private sector of the economy to exist and develop within the limits prescribed by law ... The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the private sector of the economy, and exercises guidance, supervision and control over the private sector of the economy."

In 1993, as China transformed from a planned economy into a market economy, the Constitution was again amended to declare, "The state has put into practice a socialist market economy." In addition, the national goal described in the preamble of the Constitution, to "turn China into a socialist country with a high level of culture and democracy" was amended to "turn China into a socialist country that is prosperous, powerful, democratic and culturally advanced."

In 1999, "rule of law" was added to the Constitution. Article 5 was thus amended to read, "The People's Republic of China governs the country according to law and makes it a socialist country under the rule of law."

In the most recent amendment in 2004, the concept of "human rights" was included. Article 33 provides, "The state respects and protects human rights."

"The explicit recognition of the constitutional status of 'human rights' is generally seen as significant progress in the development of Chinese constitutional values and ideas," said Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University.

Meanwhile, such clauses as "lawful private property is inviolable" was also added to the Constitution. "The amendments will eliminate entrepreneurs' hidden worries about the security of their assets and boost their confidence in long-term investment," said Tang Haibin, an official with the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.

Along with the changes of the Constitution, many practical laws were also adopted by the NPC to reflect the distinct characteristics of the times and social changes in China.

In 1986, the NPC adopted the Law on Enterprise Bankruptcy on a trial basis. To the surprise of many Chinese people, the law allowed state-run companies to file for bankruptcy even though China is a socialist country.

Later, the top legislature issued laws on securities, trademarks, intellectual property rights and many others aimed at promoting the country's economic reform and establishing a socialist market economy.

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