Covering China’s National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee
Category: Recording & Review
“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.
UPDATE (Nov. 8, 2022): We have posted a full English translation of Prof. Liang’s request for review.
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.)
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 Then in 2016, the modified one-child policy was replaced by a two-child policy, which was in turn superseded by a three-child policy in May 2021.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.
China’s former one-child policy was “one of the most draconian examples of government social engineering ever seen.” 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.
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. (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 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.
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.
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). 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.
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.