2021 NPC Session: Dissecting the Amendments to the NPC’s Two Governing Laws

The National People’s Congress (NPC) will convene for its 2021 session on Friday, March 5. It is the seventh year in a row—the second-longest streak post-1978 (after 1988–1997)—that the NPC reviews legislation at its annual plenary session. This year, besides an expected bill to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, the NPC will also review amendments to its own governing laws: the NPC Organic Law [全国人民代表大会组织法] and the NPC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会议事规则]. The former outlines the NPC’s organizational structure and prescribes the functions of its various components, whereas the latter lays out the procedures for conducting business in the full NPC.

Neither law has ever been updated. The NPC Organic Law was enacted on December 10, 1982, the same day as China’s current Constitution, and the NPC Rules of Procedure seven years later, in April 1989. The draft amendments thus focus heavily on codifying the changes in the NPC’s organization and practice in the last several decades. They would also modernize the two laws’ structures, delete irrelevant and duplicative provisions more suitable for other laws, and ensure that they are consistent with newer statutes, including the 1994 Budget Law [预算法] (amended in 2014 and 2018), 2000 Legislation Law [立法法] (amended in 2015), 2006 Oversight Law [各级人民代表大会常务委员会监督法], and 2018 Supervision Law [监察法].

As a result, few provisions in the draft amendments are truly novel, even though their texts span over twenty pages. In this explainer, we will dissect the two drafts and sort out “new” provisions—which, once enacted, will in fact lead to changes in practice—from those that will not.

This explainer is based on the drafts that were released in December 2020. The drafts to be introduced on Friday will likely have been further revised. The NPC Organic Law is abbreviated as “OL” below, and the NPC Rules of Procedure as “ROP.” Citations are to the two laws as would be amended, not to the draft amendments.

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NPC Calendar: March 2021 (Updated)

The Criminal Law Amendment (XI) [刑法修正案(十一)] and the Yangtze River Protection Law [长江保护法] take effect on March 1.

The 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) will convene for its fourth annual session on Friday, March 5. The session’s agenda has not yet been finalized, but we expect it to include following items:

  • Deliberate the Government Work Report;
  • Deliberate work reports by the NPC Standing Committee, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate;
  • Review the draft Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through 2035 [国民经济和社会发展第十四个五年规划和2035年远景目标纲要];
  • Review a report on the execution of the 2020 National Economic and Social Development Plan and on the draft 2021 National Economic and Social Development Plan; and review the draft 2021 National Economic and Social Development Plan;
  • Review a report on the execution of the 2020 Central and Local Budgets and on the draft 2021 Central and Local Budgets; and review the draft 2021 Central and Local Budgets;
  • Deliberate a draft amendment to the NPC Organic Law [全国人民代表大会组织法]; and
  • Deliberate a draft amendment to the NPC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会议事规则].

On March 4, the NPC session will convene for a preparatory meeting to select members of the Presidium (an ad hoc body of around 170 members that will preside over the session) and to finalize the session’s agenda. The Presidium will then immediately meet to decide on the session’s daily schedule and designate a spokesperson, among other matters. Shortly thereafter the session is expected to hold its first press conference.

As reported by various media outlets (SCMP; WSJ; NYT; Reuters), the NPC is also expected to review a bill that would overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. We expect the bill to be first announced at the press conference on March 4.

The NPC’s 2021 session is expected to last seven days, to close on March 11. All reports and bills submitted for review are expected to be approved that day.

Update (Feb. 28, 2021): The NPC Standing Committee is seeking public comments on a draft Stamp Tax Law [印花税法] through March 29, 2021.

NPC Launches Official Chinese Law Database: A Guide & Review

The National People’s Congress (NPC) on Wednesday, February 24 formally launched a database of Chinese legal authorities: the National Database of Laws and Regulations [国家法律法规数据库]. The Database has been years in the making. According to the Legal Daily, work on it started in November 2017 and was scheduled to complete by end of 2018. Yet it ended up taking a lot longer—and as we will discuss below, the Database still has had a bumpy start. In this post, we will introduce the types of legal authorities currently available in the Database. We will then discuss its three main functions: browsing, search, and download. And we will end with some concluding thoughts on the Database and look ahead to its future versions. The bottom line: the Database in its current form will not be our go-to platform for looking up Chinese legal documents.

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Demystifying the NPC’s Quasi-Legislative Decisions

As China’s supreme legislature, the NPC and its Standing Committee (NPCSC) make “laws” [法律]—or “statutes,” as we will refer to them below. Statutes in the constitutional sense are legal authorities (1) approved by a majority vote in either legislative body and (2) then promulgated by the P.R.C. President in a presidential order. They are most commonly titled “P.R.C. ××× Law” [中华人民共和国×××法]. Besides statutes, the legislature also routinely passes legal instruments styled as “decisions” [决定] (or occasionally “resolutions” [决议]).[1] Earlier in the spotlight, for instance, was an NPCSC decision that disqualified four pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators. Or the NPC’s May 28, 2020 decision that led to the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law. What is the nature of these “decisions”? Are they any different from the statutes? If so, to what extent? As the legislature (the NPCSC, in particular) makes increasing use of decisions, we explore these questions below.

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NPC Calendar: February 2021

The Coast Guard Law [海警法] takes effect on February 1.

The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) is expected convene for its 26th session soon after the week-long Spring Festival holiday, which runs from February 11 to 17 this year. The Council of Chairpersons is expected to meet before the holiday to decide on the agenda and dates of the session. The NPCSC will mainly prepare for the 2021 NPC session at its upcoming meeting, but may still review one or two legislative bills. Possible candidates include:

The NPCSC is seeking public comments on the following bills through February 25:

NPCSC Passes Coast Guard Law, Revises Administrative Penalties Law & Animal Epidemic Prevention Law & Establishes Beijing Financial Court

The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) concluded its 25th session on Friday, January 22 and adopted four bills. As usual, we will summarize them below in varying levels of detail. As of this post’s publication, the NPCSC has yet to release all associated legislative records, but when it eventually does, the records will be accessible from the relevant bill pages (linked below).

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Recording & Review Pt. 7: Constitutionally Mandated Mandarin-Medium Education

Recording & Review is a series that focuses on the NPC Standing Committee’s eponymous oversight process, whereby its Legislative Affairs Commission reviews the validity of various types of normative documents, including local regulations and judicial interpretations. A comprehensive introduction to “recording and review” can be found here, and past installments of this series here.


On Wednesday, January 20, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) heard its Legislative Affairs Commission’s annual report on its efforts in 2020 to record and review the validity of various types of sub-statutory documents, including local regulations and judicial interpretations. In sum, a document will fail review if the Commission deems it (1) unconstitutional; (2) contrary to the Communist Party’s major policies; (3) unlawful; or (4) otherwise “clearly inappropriate.” The Commission will then ask the document’s enacting body to amend or repeal it. This year’s report is particularly notable in that it devotes a full section to discussing how the Commission “proactively and prudently” dealt with constitutional issues in the recording-and-review process. This section mentions three cases, and below, we will focus on one of them, which concerns the language of instruction used by China’s ethnic schools.

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Communist Party Releases New Set of NPC-Related Reform Goals in First Five-Year Plan on Building Rule of Law in China

On Sunday, January 10, 2021, the Communist Party releases China’s first Plan on Building the Rule of Law in China [法治中国建设规划], for the years 2020 to 2025. According to an unnamed Party official interviewed by Xinhua, the Plan was approved by two top Party institutions: the Central Commission for Overall Law-Based Governance and the Politburo Standing Committee. The Plan is a comprehensive document addressing all aspects of China’s legal reform. Not only does it restate and refine reform objectives laid down since the 18th Party Congress in 2012, it also includes new reform goals. Below, we will focus on four subsections of the Plan that set forth new reform goals relating to the NPC. We will translate the relevant parts of those subsections and supplement with our comments.

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2020 in Review: A Norm-Breaking Year at the NPC

How best to describe 2020? Challenging. Surreal. Exhausting. And for China’s national legislature, norm-breaking. On this last day of the year, we look back, as usual, at the National People’s Congress’s and our work in 2020. To start, we recount those NPC institutional norms that were burned by the dumpster fire that was 2020.

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NPC Calendar: January 2021

The following laws take effect on January 1:

The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) is seeking public comments on the following bills through January 29:

Given recent reports that the NPCSC was contemplating Hong Kong-related actions and the fact that it did not hear several routine year-end reports at its recent December session, there is a possibility that the NPCSC would meet for a special session this month.

The NPCSC will convene for its next regularly scheduled session in late February.