Year in Review: The NPC and the Observer in 2021

As we bid farewell to 2021, we look back at the National People’s Congress’s and our work in the past year.

The NPC in 2021

2021 was the legislature’s most productive year yet in the New Era. The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) was in session for a total of 25 ½ days. It held six regular sessions and, following the Communist Party’s call for additional legislative sessions, a seventh full-length session in January. The NPCSC also held a one-day special session in late March to approve sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system. Earlier that month, the 13th NPC met for its fourth annual session and adopted a decision that initiated the process for overhauling Hong Kong’s election rules. Altogether, the NPC and its Standing Committee enacted 15 new laws and approved major changes to 18, likely setting a record for the number of major bills adopted in a given year. The legislature also approved or updated 10 quasi-legislative decisions; an additional 15 bills are pending as of today. For details, please see the lists at the end of this section.

* Excluding legislative interpretations and quasi-legislative decisions.
Excluding most amendments adopted after a single review.
Bills pending by the end of a given year were not necessarily all reviewed during that year.

And now, we present our our annual list of highlights of the NPC’s work in the past year, not necessarily in order of significance:

  • Hong Kong: For the second year in a row, the national legislature took drastic legislative actions against Hong Kong. On March 11, the NPC adopted a decision authorizing the NPCSC to “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system by ensuring that the city will be governed by “patriots” only. Less than three weeks later, the NPCSC unanimously approved revisions to Annexes I and II to the Hong Kong Basic Law, which govern, respectively, the selection of the Chief Executive and formation of the Legislative Council. The revised Annexes, in short, reduced the number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council, introduced strict nomination and vetting requirements, and barred Hong Kong from initiating future political reforms on its own. As a result, no major pro-democracy party participated in December’s Legislative Council general election, and the voter turnout for directly elected seats hit a record low of 30.2%.
  • Constitutional review: The NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission continued to engage with constitutional issues during the recording-and-review process. In a new report released last week, the Commission disclosed that it had rejected local regulations that mandated parentage testing for individuals who were suspected of exceeding birth quotas, in part relying on constitutional provisions that protect personal dignity, marriage, families, and children. The Commission also adhered to its prior aggressive reading of the Constitution’s Mandarin-promotion provision, concluding that Hohhot’s local legislation violated that provision by failing to require ethnic schools to teach in Mandarin. Unfortunately, in neither instance did the Commission disclose any reasoning for its decisions.
  • Data legislation: In 2021, the NPCSC enacted two pieces of long-awaited data legislation: the Data Security Law [数据安全法] and the Personal Information Protection Law [个人信息保护法]. As two important pillars of China’s fast-growing data governance framework, the Laws received global attention during their legislative processes. Both have taken effect in the fall.
  • Property tax pilot: In October, without any prior notice, the NPCSC authorized the State Council to carry out pilot projects for a property tax in certain regions for at least five years. The State Council was given significant discretion over the pilots, including the authority to determine when and where to conduct the pilots as well as the specifics of the tax, such as the tax rate. So far, two months after the NPCSC has granted the authorization, the State Council still has not issued rules to start the pilots.
  • Foreign-related legislation: Consistent with the Party’s directive to focus on legislation in “foreign-related fields” [涉外领域], the legislature took a number of actions in this area. The NPCSC enacted a Coast Guard Law [海警法] and a Land Borders Law [陆地国界法], prompting criticisms from China’s neighbors. It adopted an Anti–Foreign Sanctions Law [反外国制裁法], authorizing government agencies to take countermeasures against foreign sanctions. It also wrote extraterritoriality provisions in other legislation, including the two data laws mentioned above, to extend the territorial reach of Chinese laws.

In 2021, the Communist Party gave a great deal of attention to the NPC and the people’s congress system, from the set of NPC-related reform goals in January’s five-year Plan on Building the Rule of Law in China [法治中国建设规划], to October’s first high-level Central Conference on Work Related to the People’s Congresses. According to state media, after the Conference the NPCSC drafted and the Party approved an Opinion on Upholding and Improving the People’s Congress System and Strengthening and Improving Work Related to People’s Congresses in the New Era [中共中央关于新时代坚持和完善人民代表大会制度、加强和改进人大工作的意见], a comprehensive guiding document for reforming the people’s congress system (its full text has not been released). The significance of all these developments should become clearer in 2022 and the years to come.

New laws passed in 2021
Revisions & major amendments passed in 2021
Legislative bills pending by the end of 2021

Quasi-legislative decisions passed in 2021

NPC Observer in 2021

We published 51 posts in 2021, our most productive year to date. The website received just over 116,000 pageviews (a modest ~3.5% increase over 2020) by more than 50,500 visitors from 169 jurisdictions worldwide. Readers from the United States, once again, contributed the most traffic (about a quarter of the total), followed by visitors from Hong Kong, mainland China, the United Kingdom, and Germany. And over 6,500 of you have followed us on social media.

Our most viewed post in 2021 was our guide to China’s Civil Code (which has been in effect for a full year today), followed by our explainer of the NPC’s decision authorizing Hong Kong’s electoral overhaul. The Civil Code page was again the most viewed bill page in 2021, followed by those for the Personal Information Protection Law and the Data Security Law.

In the past year, we continued to add new resources and improve reader experience. We launched a Resources portal that collects all the introductory materials we have written about the NPC—FAQs, explainers, and user guides—as well as useful external links. We created three separate new pages listing, respectively, all current Chinese statutes, the NPCSC’s legislative interpretations, and the legislature’s quasi-legislative decisions. Finally, we also published a Recording & Review portal, which collects all our writings on the increasingly important oversight process, its latest governing rules (with our English translation), and the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission’s annual reports on recording and review.

2021 was also a milestone for us. In October, we celebrated NPC Observer’s fifth anniversary and used the occasion to publish a new About Us page, where we introduce our history, our work, our editorial policy, and our team. We again would like to express our sincere gratitude to those who have supported us along the way.

That concludes our programming in 2021. Best wishes to everyone in 2022.

Happy New Year!

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