Intensified efforts to improve people's livelihood, the passage of the Property Law and more candid criticism of government performance stood out as three prominent features of this year's sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's supreme legislature, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top advisory body, which concluded in Beijing on March 16.
Since the introduction of economic reforms and the opening up policy in the late 1970s, China has achieved remarkable economic developments that have drawn attention and admiration throughout the world. However, unprecedented social problems, such as a widening income gap, unaffordable education, an inadequate social security network, rising unemployment and growing medical costs, have emerged and become exacerbated. These problems, to a large extent, have increasingly become a source of widespread discontent among the general public.
The situation prompted the ruling Communist Party to adopt a new policy last October, which put more emphasis on social justice, fairness and common prosperity, so as to build a "harmonious society." In line with that policy shift, this year's Central Government budget, which was approved at the latest NPC sessions, drastically increased expenditures in areas concerning people's livelihood. Compared with 2006, the amount for rural development increased 52 billion yuan to reach 391.7 billion yuan, up 15.3 percent; for education, the figure rose 25.249 billion yuan to reach 85.854 billion yuan, up 41.7 percent; for medical care, it reached 31.276 billion yuan, up 14.536 billion yuan or 86.6 percent; for social security and employment, the amount totaled 201.927 billion yuan, up 24.699 billion yuan or 13.9 percent. It is widely believed that the increased financial allocation will greatly help alleviate social discrepancies and ease instability.
The passage of the Property Law at the NPC session should be hailed as a milestone for the country's economic reform and the rule of law. For the first time in the history of the People's Republic, which was founded in 1949, private enterprises and individuals now enjoy the same legal protection for their property as the state.
Obviously, more articulate and enforceable property rights are essential to today's China, where a flourishing private sector accounts for some two-thirds of GDP. Experiencing more than 100 revisions and seven examinations by the NPC Standing Committee during the past 13 years, the adoption of the law is a hard-won victory. Though some of the articles and clauses in the law still remain controversial, it certainly has laid a solid ground for the healthy development of the market economy in the country.
More candid and open criticism of government performance is another feature of this year's sessions. An increasing number of NPC deputies and CPPCC members debated and criticized the government's errors and social problems in a more frank manner, while making concrete proposals to address them. By March 10, this year's NPC session had received more than 2,000 motions, while proposals submitted to the CPPCC National Committee sessions had amounted to 4,516 by March 9. The majority of them were on issues that have direct bearing on people's daily life, such as corruption, education, medicine and healthcare, production safety, housing, employment and social insurance, charity and farmers' income, and resources and environmental protection. If combined, this indicates that almost every participant to the two sessions had offered a suggestion. This kind of atmosphere prevailing during the sessions embodies an encouraging spirit for enhancing political democracy in China.