March 15, 2017 was a historic day for China as the General Provisions of the Civil Law was passed at the National People’s Congress, a major step towards a comprehensive civil code. Per the official compilation plan, the project will be completed by around 2020.
Since the modern transition of Chinese law, China has mainly modeled its jurisprudence on the civil laws of Europe. Most countries that have adopted European continental law have a complete civil code.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many attempts have been made to compile such a civil code, but they all failed due to the constantly transforming socio-economic system. As an alternative, China has issued a series of civil laws for particular situations including General Rules of the Civil Law (1986), Contract Law (1999), Property Law (2007), and Tort Liability Law (2009).
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, China has strengthened its legislation efforts, with the compilation of a civil code as the cornerstone. The General Provisions of the Civil Law was eventually formulated after three years of great endeavors and support from Chinese people from all walks of life.
A civil code serves as a basic regulation of civil life, stipulating the civil rights enjoyed by all citizens and adjusting citizens’ major legal obligations from the cradle to the grave.
The general provisions of the civil code serve as a pillar, outlining the basics and value guidance of the civil law. The newly-established General Provisions of the Civil Law summarizes China’s 30-plus years of experience in legislation and judicature and creates a framework to respond to new demands and emerging issues.
As China moves forward, the public has paid greater attention to environmental issues. The general provisions include “green rules” concerning resource conservation and environmental protection. As the country has embraced the internet era, the government has placed more emphasis on the protection of personal information. Regulations in the general provisions even govern new types of property such as online virtual assets and data information. The general provisions also touch on topics such as an adult guardian system to better care for the growing elderly demographic.
Overall, the general provisions highlight the latest trends in technological progress as well as practical issues demanding public attention.
An important component of a nation’s legal system, a civil code is an essential standard reflecting the maturity of governance by law. China is promoting the rule of law, particularly in civil life, along with the acceleration of the compilation of the civil code. Not only are ordinary people’s lives better protected by law, civil decisions have now been backed by more solid legal ground. The civil code will play a positive role in developing and improving the country’s market-oriented economic system as well as protecting the civil rights and interests of all stakeholders, including foreigners.
The author is a professor at the Law School of Peking University.