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China's laws move from "big picture" to refining the details
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09:30, March 09, 2008

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Lawyer Chen Shu, from the southern city of Guangzhou, is well prepared to raise a motion to the annual session of the top legislature on further improving the labor contract law, which took effect just two months ago.

Some other deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) and political advisors have joined her, pushing this already controversial law further into the spotlight.

Opinions are mixed on the law. Some have protested that the "over-protection" of workers has pushed up production costs; others have termed it just a baby step for the improvement of working conditions.

The labor law is one of the 299 laws in force in China, and one of the 100 pieces of legislation the NPC and its Standing Committee has adopted over the past five years.

But it is typical of China's legislative trend today that the laws are having a greater social impact as the legal framework affects the details of people's lives.

For instance, a statutory benefit is good in the eye of employees, but it is a corresponding loss to employers. And most people are either an employee or an employer.

Other sensitive laws that the NPC and its Standing Committee have passed over the past five years concerned individual income taxes, traffic safety and personal property, all of which generated heated debate among the public and lawmakers.

"Every law is relevant to citizens but, I have to say, Chinese lawmakers have focused on legislation directly affecting people's lives over the past five years," said professor Cai Dingjian of the China University of Political Science and Law.

He attributed the trend to social changes. "Compared with decades ago, Chinese society has more conflicts of economic interest as new social strata emerge and the country's economy becomes ever more active," Cai said.

"Since the eighth NPC began to work 15 years ago, the top legislature has worked to get rid of the image of a 'rubber stamp,'" said Cai. "The legislative body has taken the initiative to draft laws and revise them according to public opinion, instead of leaving it to the disposal of government departments."

The public has a bigger say in legislation than ever before, said Cai, who has worked in the NPC as an academic advisor for many years.

For example, during the process of devising the labor contract law legislation, the NPC Standing Committee released the full draft text to solicit public opinion. More than 190,000 letters flooded in, the most ever for the NPC, of which 65 percent came from individual employees.

The national legislature also held more than 10 meetings with ordinary citizens, experts and government officials when drafting the landmark property law. And it held four meetings -- one each with taxi drivers, residents, legal experts and traffic authorities -- when amending one item of the traffic safety law that was just 100 words long.


China's legal system was non-existent during the 10-year Cultural Revolution. It was the late leader Deng Xiaoping's call for reform and opening up 30 years ago that ushered in the building of a "socialist legal framework" that is still under construction.

"Three decades ago, after the country went through the Cultural Revolution and moved toward reform and opening-up, lawmakers were busy drafting fundamental laws, such as the criminal law and the civil code, as there were huge gaps in the country's legal system," Cai said.

When China set out to streamline the government in the 1980s, lawmakers made corresponding codes to regulate administrative activities; and when building a market economy became a top priority after 1992, the legislature promulgated laws to protect consumers, as well as other civil and commercial laws.

"The past five years saw more complicated issues emerging and society became more diverse, with more interest groups. This pushed the legislature to fractionalize the laws and include practical, detailed items," Cai said. He cited as an example the fact that, although there was already a labor law in force, the NPC Standing Committee still went on to make a law on labor contracts.

"Just as lawmakers were busy handing down new laws 30 years ago, they are busy revising the existing ones today. The legal framework is basically complete, but there is still much to do to regulate different social interests," said Xu Xianming, president of the China University of Political Science and Law and an NPC deputy.

History is already repeating itself, at least numerically. The NPC passed seven pieces of legislation in 1979 at the end of a legislative session; all were new laws, including the criminal code and the criminal procedural law. At the end of last year, an NPC Standing Committee session also adopted seven pieces of legislation, but the difference was that five were amendments to existing laws.

"Laws are in place for the big issues of political, economic and social life. Now it is time to move into the era of details," said Xu.

Source: Xinhua

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