This Glossary was last updated on December 3, 2018.
This Glossary provides definitions of terms that you may encounter on this Blog. Entries (except the first two) are ordered alphabetically. Terms in boldface are defined in this Glossary. The original Chinese of proper nouns not defined in this Glossary is also provided, but only once throughout.
National People’s Congress (NPC) [全国人民代表大会]: Constitutionally, the NPC is the “highest organ of state power” [最高权力机关], vested with powers (among others) to enact “basic laws” [基本法律]; to elect, or decide on choices for, the President [主席] and Vice President [副主席], the Premier and other senior officials of the State Council, the Chairman and other senior members of the Central Military Commission [中央军事委员会], as well as the heads of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate; and to approve the Central Government’s budget and annual National Economic and Social Development Plans [国民经济和社会发展计划]. The NPC plays a largely rubber-stamping role, however, as it has never rejected any bill, appointment, report, or other types of proposal put before it. It meets only once per year for an approximately two-week session. The term of each NPC lasts five years; that of the current, or 13th, NPC will end in March 2023.
NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) [全国人民代表大会常务委员会]: The NPCSC is an elite 175-member body within the NPC. It enacts the majority of China’s laws and routinely conducts oversight of other central government entities. The NPCSC also has, and do exercise, the authority (among others) to appoint or remove officers (except the heads) of those government entities; to appoint or recall ambassadors; to approve or abrogate treaties; and to interpret laws (by issuing legislative interpretations). It is also vested with, but has never exercised, the powers (among others) to interpret the Constitution and to annul legislation enacted by the State Council or local governments for statutory or constitutional violations. Headed by a Chairman, the NPCSC is elected by the NPC to the same five-year term.
Amendment [修正案]: Passed in the form of NPC or NPCSC decisions, amendments, put simply, change laws—just like revisions. But unlike revisions, amendments do not alter the effective dates of laws and in general introduce changes that are narrower in scope than revisions do.
Administrative regulation [行政法规]: Administrative regulations are legislation enacted by the State Council (and not by its subordinate departments or agencies). The State Council does not need express statutory authorizations to formulate administrative regulations because it retains broad constitutional and statutory authority to do so. Administrative regulations are, however, inferior to laws in terms of force, and may be annulled by the NPC or NPCSC for statutory or constitutional violations.
Council of Chairmen [委员长会议]: A powerful decision-making body within the NPCSC, the Council of Chairmen is composed of the NPCSC’s Chairman [委员长], Vice Chairpersons [副委员长], and Secretary General [秘书长]—who are all senior leaders in the Communist Party or the Democratic Parties (民主党派). The Council of Chairmen determines the date and duration of NPCSC sessions, effectively sets the agendas of the sessions, and decides whether to put a bill to a vote. It also approves the NPCSC’s annual legislative and oversight plans.
Deliberation [审议]: Deliberation by the NPC or NPCSC refers to their consideration and discussion of items on the agendas of their sessions. The number of times the NPC and the NPCSC deliberate an item is equal to the number of sessions where the item is deliberated. The Legislation Law requires, as a general rule, at least three rounds of deliberations for a bill to pass. NPC special committees can also conduct deliberations of matters before the NPC or NPCSC, both before and after these matters are placed on their agendas.
Judicial interpretation [司法解释]: Despite the NPCSC’s exclusive constitutional authority to interpret laws (i.e., to adopt legislative interpretations), the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate are both authorized by the Legislation Law to issue judicial interpretations on the “specific application of law” in the courts’ and procuratorates’ work, respectively. The two institutions may jointly issue judicial interpretations if the subjects concern both the courts and procuratorates. (The Supreme People’s Court Monitor has explained the Supreme People’s Court’s judicial interpretations in detail.)
NPC special committees [全国人大专门委员会]: Ten special committees are established under the 13th NPC. Each exercises jurisdiction over issues relating to its area(s) of expertise by, for instance, deliberating relevant legislative bills before they are considered by the full NPC or NPCSC. The Constitution and Law Committee [宪法和法律委员会] is responsible for deliberating all legislative bills on the NPC and NPCSC’s agenda—a process known as “uniform deliberation” [统一审议] under the Legislation Law. Each special committee is composed of a chairperson [主任委员], several vice chairpersons [副主任委员], and other members.
Law [法律]: When defined narrowly (and as used in the Legislation Law, in this Glossary, and on this Blog), laws refer only to the binding legal authorities enacted by the NPC and the NPCSC. The titles of almost all laws start with “中华人民共和国” (People’s Republic of China) and end with “法” (Law). The force of laws is higher than that of all other legal authorities (except the Constitution), including administrative regulations and judicial interpretations.
Law enforcement inspection [执法检查]: Law enforcement inspections are a type of oversight tools used by the NPCSC to identify existing problems in law enforcement and to propose suggestions for improving the relevant legislation, among other purposes. We have explained in detail the procedures, functions, and other aspects of law enforcement inspections in this post.
Legislative interpretation [法律解释]: Under the Legislation Law, the NPCSC may issue legislative interpretations when there is a need to clarify the “specific meaning” of a legal provision or to clarify “the basis of its application” due to new circumstances. Such interpretations have the same force as laws.
Local regulations [地方性法规]: Local regulations are legislation enacted either by provincial-level people’s congresses or their standing committees (i.e., those of provinces, autonomous regions, and directly governed municipalities), or by municipal-level people’s congresses or their standing committees (i.e., those of sub-districted cities [设区的市] and autonomous prefectures [自治州]). Provincial-level local regulations may be enacted to implement laws and administrative regulations or to regulate local affairs. Municipal-level local regulations may be enacted only on matters relating to “urban and rural construction and management, environmental protection, or historical and cultural protection”; must be approved by the corresponding provincial legislatures before taking effect; and must not contradict the corresponding provincial-level local regulations. Local regulations must not contradict the Constitution, laws, or administrative regulations. Otherwise, they are subject to annulment by the NPCSC.
Presidential order [主席令]: Presidential orders are short documents signed by the President that are most often used to promulgate—or publicly announce—legislation (including new laws, amendments, and revisions) passed by the NPC and NPCSC. (The President cannot veto legislation passed by the NPC or NPCSC.) A presidential order details the date and the particular NPC or NPCSC session where a piece of legislation was passed, along with its effective date. Presidential orders are also used to announce the NPC’s and the NPCSC’s decisions to appoint or remove senior State Council officials.
Revision [修订]: Revisions are passed in the form of new laws (i.e., not in the form of NPC or NPCSC decisions); each revised law includes a note describing the occasion where the revision was made. Revisions, unlike amendments, alter the effective dates of laws and normally make more extensive changes to laws than amendments.
Session [会议]: Sessions are multi-day (and very rarely single-day) events during which the NPC and NPCSC conduct business, such as deliberating legislative bills. The NPCSC holds regularly scheduled sessions—normally for three to seven days—in each even-numbered month (February, April, and so forth). It also very occasionally holds special sessions. The NPC convenes each year for only one plenary session, which has always started on March 5 since 1998. The NPC’s sessions last approximately two weeks each.
Special inquiry [专题询问]: A form of oversight by the NPCSC, special inquiries have been consistently used to supplement other oversight tools, such as law enforcement inspections. State Council officials having responsibility over the subjects of the special inquiries are asked to attend them to answer NPCSC members’ questions.
State Council [国务院]: The State Council—also referred to as the Central People’s Government [中央人民政府] in certain contexts—is the highest administrative organ in China’s political system. It is composed of the Premier [总理], Vice Premiers [副总理], State Councillors [国务委员], Secretary General [秘书长], Auditor General (审计长), and heads of cabinet-level ministries and commissions. These officials are subject to appointment and removal by the NPC and NPCSC. The State Council has the authority to formulate administrative regulations and drafts most legislative bills that come before the NPC and NPCSC.
Supreme People’s Court (SPC) [最高人民法院]: The SPC is the highest court in mainland China (it does not have jurisdiction over Hong Kong and Macau). Its President [院长] is elected and subject to removal by the NPC. Other members of the SPC, including the Vice Presidents [副院长] and rank-and-file judges, are appointed and removed by the NPCSC. The SPC is authorized by the Legislation Law to issue “interpretations on the specific application of law in adjudication work”—commonly known as judicial interpretations—and to submit legislative bills to the NPC and NPCSC.
Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) [最高人民检察院]: The SPP is the highest procuratorate, or prosecutor’s office, in mainland China (it does not have jurisdiction over Hong Kong and Macau). Its Procurator General [检察长] is elected and subject to removal by the NPC. Other members of the SPP, including the Deputy Procurators General [副检察长] and rank-and-file procurators, are appointed and removed by the NPCSC. The SPP is authorized by the Legislation Law to issue “interpretations on the specific application of law in procuratorial work”—commonly known as judicial interpretations—and to submit legislative bills to the NPC and NPCSC.