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The Constitution and Legal System

The Constitution of the PRC guarantees the basic rights and interests of citizens, including the right to vote and to stand for election; freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration; freedom of religious belief; the inviolability of the freedom of the person, the personal dignity and the residences; freedom and privacy of correspondence; the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state agency or functionary and exercise supervision; the right to work and rest and the right to material assistance from the state and society when they are old, ill or disabled; and the right to receive education and freedom to engage in scientific research, literary and artistic creation and other cultural pursuits.

Adopted in 1982, China's Constitution has been amended four times, most recently this year on March 14, 2004 when the National People's Congress voted to include formal guarantees of human rights -- "the state respects and safeguards human rights" -- and private property. The clause on private property protection places private assets of Chinese citizens on an equal footing with public-sector property, "not to be encroached upon." Other major amendments to the Constitution included an institution of the guiding role of the "Three Represents" important thought in national political and social life, expressions of coordinated development of material civilization and political and cultural progress, incorporation of the term "builders of socialism," and improvement of the land expropriation system.

Over the past six years, China has intensified legislative action on enacting and revising laws and regulations in accordance with its having become in late 2001 a member of the World Trade Organization ("WTO"). Up to the end of 2003, around 440 laws and law-related decisions enacted by the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee, more than 1,000 administrative regulations enacted by the State Council and 10,000 local ordinances had been formulated. Those laws, regulations and rules applying to a wide range of areas have helped to establish a relatively complete system of law in China.

In 2003, China made unusual progress in its effort to improve its legal system.

First, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress unanimously adopted the Amendment to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China that was then approved in March 2004 by the National People's Congress.

Second, the former "Measures for Internment and Deportation of Urban Vagrants and Beggars" was replaced by the "Measures for the Assistance and Administration of Persons Without Assured Living Sources in Cities," the words in the titles reflecting the social progress contained within the measures. On August 1, 2003, a regulation that provides voluntary shelter for vagrants and beggars went into effect, demonstrating China's efforts to safeguard the civil rights of both migrants and homeless people in urban areas. The new measures came more than a month after the Chinese Central Government abolished a 20-year-old regulation that allowed police to round up people without identification cards at will. Under the new regulation, police are not allowed to imprison migrants without identification cards as vagrants. Instead, police have the duty to "inform beggars and vagrants that they can ask for help from shelters." This underlies the voluntary basis of the new relief system rather than the so-called "holding system" previously in force.

Third, the new Regulations on Marriage Registration was enacted, replacing old regulations considered obsolete. Under the new regulations, couples need only show their ID cards and residency papers and sign a document stating they are not married or related to register their marriages, thus ending the involvement of "Danwei" or the state-owned working units, which was previously essential.

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