NPC’s Legislation: An Introduction

Under the P.R.C. Constitution, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC) “exercise the legislative power of the State.” Together they form China’s national legislature. The NPC has the sole power to “enact and amend basic criminal and civil laws, basic laws governing the State organs, and other basic laws.” The NPCSC may enact and amend all other laws, and may also “partially supplement and amend” the NPC’s enactments, if their “basic principles” are not contravened. Legislation passed by the legislature can be broadly divided into three categories: (1) statutes in the constitutional sense; (2) legislative interpretations; and (3) quasi-legislative decisions. Each category is briefly introduced below.

Statutes in the Constitutional Sense

A legislative act is a “law” [法律] (or statute) as used in the P.R.C. Constitution if it meets two basic requirements: (1) adopted by a majority vote in either the NPC or the NPCSC; and (2) then promulgated by the P.R.C. President in a presidential order. (Presidential promulgation is only a formality, as the President cannot veto any bill.) Statutes in the constitutional sense can take a variety of forms. Almost all are styled as “P.R.C. ××× Law” [中华人民共和国×××法], while a sizable minority appear as “decisions” [决定] on particular legal issues. There are also a few “regulations” [条例] and “rules” [规则] as well as one “code” [法典], but these forms are rarer. Below, we will term all “decisions” on particular legal issues as “mini-statutes” and all other statutes in the constitutional sense—laws, regulations, rules, and codes—as “full statutes.”

The Legislation Law [立法法] regulates the enactment of and subsequent changes to full statutes. (Statutory changes can be either “amendments” [修正案] or “revisions” [修订], as explained in our Glossary.) By default, a legislative bill (whether a new statute, an amendment, or a revision) should undergo review at three separate NPCSC sessions, which typically span from eight to twelve months. A bill may pass after just two reviews if the relevant parties have formed a “preponderant consensus” on it. An amendment may also be adopted after a single review if it only “partially amends” a statute.

Mini-statutes (styled as decisions) are subject to less stringent legislative procedures. Both the NPCSC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会常务委员会议事规则] and the Legislation Law allow them to pass after only one review. Mini-statutes are explained in more detail here.

Since January 2021, the NPCSC has been maintaining an official list of China’s statutes, which we have reproduced, translated, and annotated in the page below. Note, however, that the list includes a few legislative acts that do not qualify as statutes in the constitutional sense, but which are nonetheless officially deemed as such and treated as legally binding.

Legislative Interpretations

The NPCSC has the constitutional authority to interpret statutes. The Legislation Law further provides for two scenarios in which the NPCSC should exercise this power: (1) when the “specific meaning” of a statutory provision needs further clarification; or (2) when it is necessary to clarify the “applicable statutory basis” in new circumstances that have arisen after a statute’s enactment. The NPCSC’s legislative interpretations are not promulgated by the President, but have the same force as statutes.

The NPCSC has interpreted both statutes that apply only in mainland China as well as those that also apply to Hong Kong and Macau, including the two cities’ Basic Laws. We plan to soon make available a bilingual list of the NPCSC’s legislative interpretations.

Quasi-Legislative Decisions

Quasi-legislative decisions are very similar to mini-statutes. They are both exempt from the default three-review legislative process and are practically indistinguishable in form and in substance. But unlike mini-statutes, quasi-legislative decisions are not promulgated by the President—their only notable difference. Quasi-legislative decisions are in fact the successors to mini-statutes, which have fallen out of use since the 1990s. For more information, please refer to our explainer of these decisions.

We have also published a bilingual and annotated list of quasi-legislative decisions with ongoing effect:

List of Legislation by NPC

A list of all major legislative bills—including all new statutes, all revisions, as well as major amendments and quasi-legislative decisions—enacted by or pending before the current (13th) NPC is available below. The list also links to individual pages for the bills, which collect the relevant legislative information and documents.

For major legislation enacted by the 8th through the 12th NPCs (1993–2018), please refer to the annotated versions of their five-year legislative plans listed in the table below:

NPCSCVersionChinese OriginalAnnotatedOur Analysis
PDF, HTMLBilingual (HTML)Part 1, Part 2
6/1/2015PDF, HTMLBilingual (HTML)
10/30/2013PDF, HTML
HTMLBilingual (HTML)
HTMLBilingual (HTML)
N/ABilingual (HTML)
N/AChinese (HTML)

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