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

A GREAT THEORY: The Second Plenary Session of the Ninth National People's Congress ratifies the amendment which incorporated Deng Xiaoping's theory and "rule of law" into the Constitution on March 15, 1999 (XINHUA)

IN SESSION: The Second Plenary Session of the 12th National People's Congress closes on March 13 in Beijing (CHEN JIANLI)

The NPC also enacted many other laws based on Chinese people's practices in social and economic administration such as the Law on Land Contract in Rural Areas, which grants farmers long-term and guaranteed land-use rights, and the law to supervise and prevent loss of state-owned assets.

In 1989, the NPC passed the Administrative Procedure Law, which challenges all illegal administrative acts.

According to statistics from the Supreme People's Court (SPC), Chinese courts accepted more than 1.4 million administrative procedure lawsuit cases from 1989 to 2008, many of which were suing governments.

Between 2000 and 2010, China's legal system gradually became complete. Many important support laws, such as the Property Law, Social Insurance Law, Tort Liability Law and Food Safety Law, were enacted by the NPC.

The Social Insurance Law, which was passed by the NPC on October 28, 2010, is an important sign of China establishing its social laws, said Zheng Gongcheng, a professor at Renmin University of China.

"Social law is a new legal concept, mainly dealing with affairs concerning social security, social assistance, public welfare and community special care," said Zheng.

"The Social Insurance Law is the first law in China's social laws. It is a basic law," said Zheng.

"We now have a complete set of laws covering all aspects of social relations, with basic and major laws of each type already in place, together with comprehensive corresponding administrative regulations and local statutes," said Wu, then China's top legislator, at a plenary meeting of the NPC's annual session in 2011.

According to him, by the end of 2010, China had enacted 236 laws, more than 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local statutes, and reviewed all current laws, administrative regulations and local statutes.

"The formation of the system has solved the problem by having laws for all government departments and people to guide their behavior," said Li Lin, Director of the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The electoral system

In 1979, the NPC revised the Electoral Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses. The law was then amended five times in 1982, 1986, 1995, 2004, and 2010, respectively.

According to the amended Electoral Law, political parties and people's organizations may either jointly or separately recommend candidates for deputies, and a joint group of at least 10 voters or deputies may also recommend candidates, which undoubtedly enhances voters' nomination rights.

In view of the sharp gap between rural and urban populations in the early years of the PRC, the population ratio based on which NPC deputies were elected between rural and urban areas was 8 to 1, but in the most recent NPC, deputies were elected based on their make-up of the population, so as to guarantee equal rights for all citizens.

In addition, deputies to people's congresses at and below county level are now elected directly by their constituents. Previously, the rule was only practiced at lower levels such as urban towns or rural townships. "The change enables the people to better exercise their right to govern the state," Li with the CASS said.

Another major breakthrough regarding the electoral system for deputies to the people's congresses is a shift from non-competitive to competitive elections. "This not only enables voters and deputies to better exercise their rights to vote, but also encourages candidates to better perform their duties and represent the interests of their constituents, so as to realize the ultimate goal of elections—selecting the most capable," Li said.

The NPC and local people's congresses at different levels are constituted by deputies elected via democratic election. Along with the diversification of China's economic entities and society, deputies to people's congresses at all levels have also seen a tendency to become more diverse.

In 1983, Bai Shiming, who operated a private photo studio in Harbin of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, was elected a deputy to the Sixth NPC, a significant breakthrough in an era when the private economy was relatively new to the country.

In 1993, Liu Guansong, a private entrepreneur in south China's Guangdong Province, was elected an NPC deputy. According to the Constitution amended later, non-public sectors of the economy were placed at a higher position, becoming an "important component of the socialist market economy." From that point on, more and more private entrepreneurs have been found amongst NPC deputies.

The social identities of NPC deputies are increasingly diversifying, with three migrant workers being elected NPC deputies in 2008. The amended Electoral Law states that among deputies to the people's congresses at all levels, "there shall be an appropriate number of grassroots deputies, especially from among workers, farmers and intellectuals."

Moreover, increasing numbers of young people born in the 1980s and 1990s have become deputies to people's congresses at every level.

Statistics show that 74 deputies to the 12th NPC were born in the 1980s in addition to two born in the 90s. Despite their lack of social and political experience, these young deputies have shown great interest in state affairs and impressed veterans with their creativity. For instance, Sun Xiaolei, a 1990s-born senior at Fudan University who was elected a deputy to the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress, impressively gathered public opinion via microblogging platforms.

"Along with China's social progress, the people's congress system is improving accordingly and will serve as a solid foundation for realizing the people's dream of national rejuvenation," said Li.

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