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UPDATED: March 13, 2011 NO. 11 MARCH 17, 2011
Rule of Law
China establishes a comprehensive socialist legal system

DRUNK DRIVING CRACKDOWN: Traffic police officers give an alcohol test to a driver in Chongqing on February 13. Drunk driving is listed as a crime in the newly amended Criminal Law (CFP)

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, adopted an amendment to the Criminal Law at a bimonthly session in February, reducing the number of capital punishment by 13 to 55.

The same bimonthly session also saw the ratification of a law on vehicle and vessel taxation, which is aimed at standardizing taxation and promoting environmental awareness and energy efficiency, and the country's first law on intangible cultural heritage protection, which is expected to better preserve heritages of historic, literary, artistic or scientific value.

In January, China announced the establishment of a comprehensive socialist legal system.

"The system governs all sectors of social life and provides a legal basis for the country's economic and social construction," said Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, at a seminar in Beijing.


China's newly revised Criminal Law eliminates the death penalty for 13 economy-related crimes, as the country moves to reform its penalty system and better protect human rights.

The amendment marks the first time since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979 that the country has reduced the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.

"The 13 crimes that have been exempted from the death penalty are mainly economic and non-violent crimes," Lang Sheng, Vice Chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, said in February.

Crimes that are exempt from the capital punishment according to the amendment include tax fraud and fraudulent activities involving financial bills. Also wiped from the list are offences involving the smuggling of cultural relics or of precious and rare animals.

The amendment is considered another move by China to limit the use of the death penalty, following a decision in 2007 all rulings involving the capital punishment should be reviewed and approved by the SPC.

The court has overturned 10 percent of death sentences nationwide since 2007.

"The amendment is a manifestation of progress in Chinese legislation," Zhao Changqing, a professor at Southwest University of Political Science, told the 21st Century Business Herald.

The amendment also says the death penalty will not be imposed on people aged 75 or older at the time of trial, except if they had committed a murder with exceptional cruelty.

While exempting some convicts from execution, the amendment imposes harsher punishments on crime gang bosses, wage defaulters, offenders in food safety crimes and those convicted of forcefully removing human organs.

"It is not yet time for China to abolish the death penalty," Zhao said. "But limits on the implementation of the death penalty are necessary."


By the end of February, 239 laws, 690 national administrative regulations and 8,600 local regulations had been enacted in China, the NPC said.

Wu said these laws and regulations formed a multi-tier socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics, a significant achievement in the development of China's legal landscape.

"The system, with the Constitution as its basis and Constitution-related laws, civil laws, commercial laws and other important laws as its backbone, is in accordance with China's present circumstances," Wu said.

He said the system ensures the right direction for China's reform and opening up and boosts the improvement of the socialist system.

"It provides a legal basis for the thriving of socialism with Chinese characteristics by addressing problems concerning the fundamental and overall situation of China's development," Wu said.

In 1954, the first Constitution of New China was promulgated, which was followed by a series of fundamental laws such as the Marriage Law, Trade Union Law and Electoral Law.

The current Constitution was the fourth that was promulgated in 1982 and amended in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004.

After the country adopted the opening-up and reform policy at the end of the 1970s, many laws passed by the top legislature reflected distinct Chinese characteristic of the times and social changes in China.

In 1986, China's top legislature adopted the Law on Enterprise Bankruptcy for trial implementation. To the surprise of many Chinese people, the law allowed state-run companies to file for bankruptcy in a socialist country.

Later, the top legislature issued laws on securities, trademarks, intellectual property rights and many others promoting the country's economic reform to establish a socialist market economy.

The NPC also enacted many other laws based on Chinese people's practices in social and economic administration such as the Law on Land Contract in Rural Areas, which grants farmers long-term and guaranteed land-use rights, and the law to supervise and prevent loss of state-owned assets.

In 1989, the top legislature passed the Administrative Procedure Law, which challenges all illegal administrative acts.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) says courts at all levels accepted more than 1.4 million administrative procedure lawsuit cases from 1989 to 2008, many were suing governments.

In the past decade, China's legal system gradually became complete. Many important support laws, such as the Property Law, Social Insurance Law, Tort Liability Law and Food Safety Law, were enacted by the NPC.

The Social Insurance Law, which was passed by the NPC on October 28, 2010, is an important sign of China establishing its social laws, said Zheng Gongcheng, a professor at Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

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