Legislation: NPC Standing Committee’s Legislative Interpretations

Under Article 67, paragraph 4 of the P.R.C. Constitution, the NPC Standing Committee has the power to “interpret statutes” [解释法律]. This authority is repeated and further delineated in three statutes: the Legislation Law [立法法] (arts. 45–50), the Hong Kong Basic Law (art. 158), and the Macao Basic Law (art. 143). Under the Legislation Law, the NPCSC should exercise its interpretive 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. While legislative interpretation and legislation supplementation (or amendment) are conceptually distinct, scholars observe that, based on the NPCSC’s practice, it is a distinction without a difference. Such an approach has proven particularly controversial when the NPCSC issued “interpretations” of the Hong Kong Basic Law that lacked any arguable textual basis. The NPCSC’s legislative interpretations are not promulgated by the President, but have the same force as statutes.

Below is a list of all formal legislative interpretations the NPCSC has issued, arranged chronologically. They are placed in three groups: those concerning Hong Kong or Macao; those interpreting the mainland’s Criminal Law [刑法]; and those interpreting other mainland statutes. Where available, we have linked to free translations of these interpretations or ones available for an affordable fee.


Hong Kong & Macao

Law or Provisions Interpreted Summary Date Adopted Notes
Nationality Law
(NPC trans.)
prescribing special rules for implementing the Nationality Law in Hong Kong 1996/5/15
Nationality Law
(NPC trans.)
prescribing special rules for implementing the Nationality Law in Macao 1998/12/29
Hong Kong Basic Law article 22, paragraph 4; article 24, paragraph 3, item 3
(NPC trans. via HKSAR Gov’t)
clarifying that (1) “people from other parts of China” as used in Article 22, paragraph 4 includes the children of Hong Kong permanent residents born in the mainland with Chinese nationality, who thus must apply for approval from mainland authorities to enter Hong Kong; and that (2) those children are permanent residents of Hong Kong under Article 24, paragraph 3, item 3 only if at least one of their parents is a permanent resident at the time of their birth 1999/6/26
Hong Kong Basic Law Annex I, article 7; Annex II, article 3
(NPC trans. via HKSAR Gov’t)
interpreting Annexes I and II, which govern, respectively, the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and for forming the Legislative Council, to mean that (1) the two Annexes may be amended as early as 2007; that (2) such amendments are optional; and that (3) carrying out political reform in Hong Kong through such amendments must follow a five-step process, including the NPCSC’s approval 2004/4/6 superseded by the revised Annex I and Annex II, effective March 31, 2021
Hong Kong Basic Law article 53, paragraph 2
(NPC trans. via HKSAR Gov’t)
clarifying that, in the event that the office of the Chief Executive becomes vacant before the expiration of a normal five-year term, the newly elected Chief Executive will serve only the remainder of his or her predecessor’s term 2005/4/27
Hong Kong Basic Law article 13, paragraph 1; article 19
(NPC trans. via HKSAR Gov’t)
clarifying that (1) “foreign affairs” as used in Article 13, paragraph 1 includes rules or policies on state immunity; that (2) the central government has the power under Article 13, paragraph 1 to determine such rules or policies to be applied in Hong Kong; that (3) “acts of State such as national and foreign affairs” as used in Article 19 includes the act of the central government to determine China’s state immunity rule (i.e., absolute immunity), over which Hong Kong courts have no jurisdiction; and that (4) Hong Kong courts must apply the state immunity rule as determined by the central government 2011/8/26
Macao Basic Law Annex I, article 7; Annex II, article 3 interpreting Annexes I and II, which govern, respectively, the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and for forming the Legislative Council, to mean that (1) amendments to the two Annexes in or after 2009 are optional; and that (2) carrying out political reform in Macao through such amendments must follow a five-step process, including the NPCSC’s approval 2011/12/31
Hong Kong Basic Law article 104
(NPC trans. via HKSAR Gov’t)
clarifying that “to uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region of the People’s Republic of China and [bear] allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic China” not only must be included in the oath of office, but also constitutes “the legal requirements and preconditions” for running for or assuming the public offices listed in Article 104; and laying down requirements for taking the oath and the consequences for violating them 2016/11/7

Criminal Law

Terms or Provisions Interpreted Summary Date Adopted Notes
Article 93, paragraph 2
(NPC trans.)
listing the circumstances in which members of villagers’ committees or other grassroots-level rural organizations are deemed “state employees” [国家工作人员] and subject to the Criminal Law’s provisions on corruption, embezzlement, and bribery 2000/4/29 (amended 2009/8/27)
Articles 228, 342, 410
(NPC trans.)
clarifying the scope of “land management regulations” [土地管理法规] as used in Articles 228, 342, and 410 and the scope of “land” [土地] as used in Article 410 2001/8/31 (amended 2009/8/27)
Article 384, paragraph 1
(NPC trans.)
broadening the prohibition on embezzling public funds “for personal use” [归个人使用] to include, among others, personally allowing other individuals to use embezzled funds 2002/4/28
Article 294, paragraph 1
(NPC trans.)
clarifying the meaning of “mafia-type organizations” [黑社会性质的组织] 2002/4/28 codified by the Criminal Law Amendment (VIII), effective May 1, 2011, as Criminal Law article 294, paragraph 5
Article 313
(NPC trans.)
clarifying that one commits the crime of refusing to comply with a court “judgment” when the judgment is, among others, one that enforces a mediation agreement or an arbitral award; and listing circumstances that amount to “being able to comply [with a court judgment] but refusing to do so” 2002/8/29
Chapter IX
(NPC trans.)
applying Chapter IX of the Criminal Law, which proscribes dereliction of duty by “state organ employees” [国家机关人员], to persons who “perform public duties” [从事公务] at state organs but are not officially classified as “state organ employees” and to those who do so at institutions that are de facto state organs 2002/12/28
“credit card”
(NPC trans.)
clarifying that the term “credit card” [信用卡] means any “electronic payment card” with one or more of the functions of payment, loans, transfer and settlement, and deposit and withdrawal, including debit cards 2004/12/29
“other invoices for export tax rebates for or tax offsets”
(NPC trans.)
clarifying that the phrase “other invoices for export tax rebates or tax offsets” [出口退税、提扣税款的其他发票] means all “receipts, payment vouchers, or tax payment receipts” that may be used for export tax rebates or tax offsets, besides special invoices for value-added tax 2005/12/29
provisions on “cultural relics”
(NPC trans.)
clarifying that Criminal Law provisions on “cultural relics” [文物] apply to the “fossils of ancient vertebrates or ancients humans with scientific value” [具有科学价值的古脊椎动物化石、古人类化石] 2005/12/29
Article 30
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
clarifying that entity liability does not extend to a crime that does not specifically allow entity liability, but that the individuals who organize, plan, or the commit the crime must bear criminal responsibility 2014/4/24
Articles 158–159
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
clarifying that the crime of falsely reporting registered capital under Article 158 and the crime of making a feigned capital contribution or withdrawing contributed capital under Article 159 apply only to companies subject to the “subscribed capital registration system” [注册资本实缴登记制] under the Company Law [公司法] as amended in 2013 2014/4/24
Article 266
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
clarifying that those who fraudulently obtain social insurance payments or other social security benefits commit the crime of fraud under Article 266 2014/4/24
Articles 341, 312
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
making clear that (1) those who buy “rare or endangered wild animals under key State protection” and their products for eating or another purpose, when they know or should know their identity, commit the crime of illegal purchasing rare or endangered wild animals under key State protection and their products under Article 341; and that (2) those who purchase illegal hunted wild animals, when they know or should have known their identity, commit the crime of covering up or concealing criminal proceeds under Article 312 2014/4/24

Other Statutes

Terms or Provisions Interpreted Summary Date Adopted Notes
Criminal Procedure Law article 79, paragraph 3
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
clarifying that criminal suspects or defendants who breach the terms of bail or residential surveillance, thereby “severely disrupting the litigation process,” may be placed in pre-trial detention, even if they might receive sentences lighter than imprisonment 2014/4/24 renumbered article 81, paragraph 4 by the 2018 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law
Criminal Procedure Law article 254, paragraph 5; article 257, paragraph 2
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
providing that (1) where convicts apply to temporarily serve their sentences outside of prison before they are transferred to prison, the courts are responsible for organizing the relevant exams or evaluations; and that (2) where convicts who temporarily serve their sentences outside of prison pursuant to a court decision must be taken into custody, the police are responsible for delivering them 2014/4/24 renumbered, respectively, article 265, paragraph 5 and article 268, paragraph 2 by the 2018 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law
Criminal Procedure Law article 271, paragraph 2
(China Law Translate $ trans.)
clarifying that a victim’s right to initiate a private prosecution does not apply where the procuratorate has made a conditional non-prosecution decision or a decision to not prosecute with respect to a juvenile suspect 2014/4/24 renumbered article 282, paragraph 2 by the 2018 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law
General Principles of the Civil Law article 99, paragraph 1; Marriage Law article 22 laying down general rules for natural persons’ exercise of their right to name [姓名权] and listing the circumstances in which a person may adopt a surname other than their father’s or mother’s 2014/11/1 repealed by the Civil Code, effective January 1, 2021, and codified as its article 1015