Introducing NPC Observer Monthly

Earlier today, we formally launched our new Substack newsletter, NPC Observer Monthly, a monthly recap of goings-on at the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC)—and sometimes more.

This newsletter drops at the start of each month, starting today. Each issue will, at a minimum, recap all major NPC-related events in the previous month, including any new law that took effect, any new documents released by the legislature, and, of course, any legislative meetings as well as their agendas and outcomes. In the course of recounting the events, we will link to and excerpt from any relevant coverage we have published here. And we will briefly discuss any development that we haven’t yet had the time to analyze in-depth here.

If, during the previous month, we have also published contents not tied to any current event, the newsletter will include a round-up of such publications. Finally, depending on the month and our schedule, we may also end an issue with musings on an NPC-related topic that is in some way connected to the previous month—as we did today (see excerpt below).

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Recording & Review: Ensuring Single Women’s Equal Access to Maternity Insurance (Updated)

UPDATE (Nov. 8, 2022): We have posted a full English translation of Prof. Liang’s request for review.

Image by xiongwu from freepick

Maternity insurance [生育保险] is one of the five programs that make up China’s social insurance system. Funded by employer contributions, maternity insurance reimburses women for pregnancy- and childbirth-related medical expenses and offers them a source of income during maternity leave. In all provinces except Guangdong, however, single women have been ineligible for maternity insurance benefits. Local legislation requires claimants to provide their marriage license or some other government-issued document available only to married couples, in effect barring single women from obtaining the benefits. In a legal battle that spanned four years, Zou Xiaoqi, a single mother from Shanghai, repeatedly challenged the city’s discriminatory policy in court but ultimately to no avail. (In late 2020, Shanghai suddenly dropped the marriage requirement, but reversed course just a few months later.)

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Recording & Review: Invalidating Compulsory Parentage Testing as a Tool to Enforce Birth Quotas

From 1980 to 2021, China imposed some form of enforceable birth quota on most of its population. A one-child policy had been implemented until late 2013, when it was partially relaxed so that couples may have two children if one parent was an only child. Then in 2016, the modified one-child policy was replaced by a two-child policy, which was in turn superseded by a three-child policy in May 2021. Although a formal birth quota remains after the latest policy change, a statutory amendment in August eliminated all the penalties that once attached to violations of the quota, such as hefty fines and terminations of employment. In effect, couples who exceed the three-child limit will not be penalized, though they will be ineligible for benefits such as extended maternity leave.

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Recording & Review: Removing the Vestiges of the One-Child Policy

China’s former one-child policy was “one of the most draconian examples of government social engineering ever seen.”[1] The policy was formally launched nationwide in 1980. In just a few years, however, central authorities decided to “open small holes” by allowing more couples to have a second child, after encountering difficulties in enforcing a uniform birth-control policy nationwide and a backlash against abusive enforcement measures, such as forced sterilizations.[2]

The provinces were tasked with implementing that partial relaxation of the one-child policy. All provincial legislatures (except those of Xinjiang and Tibet) had adopted provincial birth-control legislation by the early 1990s.[3] (Xinjiang eventually did so in 2002; Tibet still has not acted.) Such legislation translates the policy into concrete terms, specifying, among other things, exceptions to the one-child-per-couple rule[4] and the penalties for above-quota births. Couples who exceed birth limits would face not only hefty fines called “social upbringing fees” [社会抚养费], but also discipline at work—including mandatory termination in a number of provinces.

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Recording & Review Pt. 8: “Same Life, Different Values”

Editor’s Note: In April 2022, the Supreme People’s Court amended the 2003 Interpretation to treat all victims in personal injury cases as urban residents, thereby eliminating the residency-based compensation standards discussed in this post.

Written by Dongyu Sun. Edited by Susan Finder and Changhao Wei.
This post also appears on the Supreme People’s Court Monitor.

Photo by ImagineChina, via Bloomberg News.

On December 15, 2005, a loaded truck rolled over on a mountain road in Chongqing, crushing a trishaw carrying He Yuan and her two friends to school. All three perished in the accident. What thrust this tragedy into the national spotlight, however, was the drastically different amounts of compensation their families received. The trucker’s employer settled with the families of Yuan’s friends for over 200,000 RMB each, but was willing to pay hers only 80,000 RMB—because she, unlike her classmates, had a rural hukou (or household registration).[1] The company cited a 2003 Supreme People’s Court (SPC) interpretation on the application of law in personal injury cases (2003 Interpretation), which created two separate standards for compensating the deaths of urban and rural residents.

As a result of this effectively hukou-based rule, countless victims’ families have found themselves in the same position as Yuan’s. The Chinese public has dubbed this phenomenon “same life, different values” [同命不同价] and has persistently criticized the 2003 Interpretation. Some citizens have requested that the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) conduct a constitutional review of the Interpretation.

It was not until 2020 that the NPCSC’s Legislative Affairs Commission publicly addressed these requests in its annual report on “recording and review” (R&R) [备案审查]. This report’s timing and content are significant. Below, we will first take a closer look at the 2003 Interpretation and the controversy surrounding hukou-based compensation standards, before returning to the Commission’s report.

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

UPDATE (June 7, 2023): According to the Legislative Affairs Commission’s 2021 report on recording and review, certain State Council department(s) requested it to review the ethnic education regulations passed by other ethnic autonomous areas, which they contended had “constitutional issues” and were not conducive to “inter-ethnic exchanges, communication, and integration.” The Commission agreed and requested repeal of those regulations, which may include the Ewenki Autonomous Banner Ethnic Education Regulations [鄂温克族自治旗民族教育条例] (repealed in April 2022).

Photo by Xu Qin (Zuma Press), via WSJ

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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Recording & Review: A Reintroduction

Editor’s Note (Sept. 30, 2021): We updated this post in accordance with our translation of the Working Measures for the Recording and Review of Regulations and Judicial Interpretations.

In early 2018, we first gave a detailed introduction to “recording and review” (R&R) [备案审查], an increasingly notable aspect of the oversight by the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC). For our purposes here, and generally speaking, R&R is a process whereby various governmental bodies with lawmaking authority record their enactments with the NPCSC, which may then review the recorded legislation on certain grounds and order corrections if the legislation does not pass muster.[1] R&R has led to some positive developments in Chinese law since our initial introduction. A few months ago, for instance, it led to the NPCSC’s abolition of “custody and education” [收容教育]—a decades-old extrajudicial detention system targeting prostitution.

The biggest update to the R&R scheme since its inception came last December. That month, the Council of Chairpersons approved the Working Measures for the Recording and Review of Regulations and Judicial Interpretations (Measures) [法规、司法解释备案审查工作办法], which were then quietly released in the NPCSC Gazette’s March issue. This is a noteworthy piece of authority: not only does it supplement the two main governing statutes—the Legislation Law [立法法] and the Law on Oversight by the Standing Committees of the People’s Congresses at All Levels (Oversight Law) [各级人民代表大会常务委员会监督法]—by filling in the procedural gaps, but more importantly, it elaborates on the existing grounds for review and also introduces brand-new ones. We thus would like to take this opportunity to reintroduce the NPCSC’s R&R practice, as now undertaken under these new rules. All citations below are to the Measures unless otherwise indicated.

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Recording & Review Pt. 6: NPCSC Launches Online Platform for Citizens to Request Legality or Constitutionality Review

If you were looking to read another case in which the Legislative Affairs Commission (LAC) of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) reviewed the legality or constitutionality of a regulation or a judicial interpretation, you will be disappointed. But in this new installment of our Recording & Review series, we will introduce a new development in the NPCSC’s review of sub-statutory legal documents that is no less important than any substantive action by the NPCSC.

On December 4, the NPCSC officially launched a new online platform for citizens, legal persons, and other organizations to submit requests for review. Previously, they must mail their suggestions to the LAC’s Office for Recording and Reviewing Regulations [法规备案审查室]. We tested the new platform and felt that it is relatively easy to use, though not without several significant limitations. Below we will offer a brief tour of the platform (with screenshots), after a quick introduction of the review process.

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Recording & Review Pt. 5: “Freedom and Privacy of Correspondence”

An institute affiliated with China’s top court reported in 2017 that using cellphones while driving was one of the main causes of traffic accidents in China. Between 2012 and mid-2017, says the report, distracted driving caused about 11% of all traffic accidents that led to civil lawsuits, even though such behavior had been outlawed since at least 2004. Enforcement is lacking, however, because distracted driving is relatively hard to detect (even with China’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras).

To combat this problem, several provinces decided to lend the police a hand. They passed what we call “phone-search provisions”: regulations that allow the police to inspect the communication records of motorists involved in accidents. Those records could provide the definitive proof of whether a driver was using cellphone just before an accident, thereby helping the police determine the liability of each party and punish the cellphone use itself.

Granting the police such authority seems like a sensible enough policy. But is it legal?

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Recording & Review Pt. 4: The Last Days of “Custody & Education”

Editor’s Note: On December 28, 2019, the NPCSC voted to abolish C&E. For more information, please see this post.

The red umbrella is the international symbol for sex workers’ rights. Photo by Kosta (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Five years after the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) abolished the reeducation-through-labor [劳动教养] system, another form of extrajudicial administrative detention is now on the chopping block. On Monday, the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission [法制工作委员会] recommended the abolition of the “custody and education” (C&E) [收容教育] system—a form of administrative punishment for prostitution. Finally.

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