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March 9, 2017

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A step closer to finally achieving civil rights code

NATIONAL lawmakers yesterday started to deliberate draft general provisions of civil law, which, if adopted, will bring the country one step closer to a long-absent civil code.

With the draft submitted to the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, the country is nearing the end of its crucial first step toward a civil code — laying down basic principles.

Last year, the draft went through three readings at the bimonthly sessions of the NPC Standing Committee. It is rare for a draft law not to be passed after three readings.

After the adoption of the general provisions, lawmakers will step up work on compiling individual books on property, contract and marriage, among others, which will be integrated into a unified code.

According to the legislation plan, the code will be enacted in 2020.

Compiling a civil code, dubbed as “an encyclopedia on social life” which regulates personal and property relations, will help to “better protect the people’s immediate interests, improve state governance, maintain market order, ensure trading security, and promote the sound development of socialist market economy,” Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, said while explaining the draft yesterday at an NPC plenary meeting.

The draft, based on the General Principles of Civil Law adopted in 1986, deals with a variety of issues, ranging from ecological conservation to property protection and the guardianship system.

Green principle

The draft establishes a “green” principle, stipulating that in their civil activities, civil subjects must be aware of the need to save resources and protect the environment.

This reflects the country’s new development concepts and the fact that China, with its huge population, has to strike a balance between people and the environment for a long time to come, Li said.

“Legislative efforts are needed to ensure civil subjects better fulfill their obligations in environmental protection,” said national lawmaker and jurist Wu Qing.

Fetuses that require protection for the succession of estates and reception of donations shall be deemed as having the capacity for civil law rights, according to the draft.

“This is a step forward. Rights of a life without capacity for conduct still need protecting,” said Shen Guoming, deputy head of the China Society of Jurisprudence.

The draft lowers the statutory age limit of minors with limited capacity for civil conduct from 10 to 6 years, for the purpose of attaching more attention to minors’ own discretion.

The draft also highlights the protection of online virtual assets and data, as incidents of personal information leakage have increased in recent years.

In addition, the draft adds provisions on rural economic collectives and villagers’ committees, among others, to help them to better participate in civil life, and protect the members’ legitimate rights and interests.

“Each and every provision embodies the will of the people,” said national lawmaker Sun Xianzhong, deputy head of the China Civil Law Society, who has spent years pushing for a civil code of China.

The road towards a civil code, a dream for generations of Chinese, has been bumpy.

Civil rights and civil code were virtually unheard of for Chinese living under imperial autocracy. It wasn’t until late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that the concept of civil code was first put forward, followed by a failed attempt by the Qing government to introduce a code.

Since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the central authority has strived to build a modern country under the rule of law, of which a civil code is an integral part.

In 1954, 1962, 1979 and 2001, China made separate attempts to draft a civil law, only to halt due to political turmoil and other reasons.

For example, the second attempt was interrupted by the chaotic Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), a dark decade in which human rights were trampled and laws could hardly protect anyone.

Nonetheless, the General Principles and other separate civil laws promulgated over the past decades, including the Property Law, the Tort Liability Law and Inheritance Law, have laid good groundwork for a civil code.



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