Implement the Civil Code in Earnest
Implement the Civil Code in Earnest*
May 29, 2020
The Civil Code has an important place in China’s socialist system of laws. It is a basic law that consolidates governance foundations, meets public expectations, and brings long-term benefits. It is of great significance in advancing law-based governance and building a socialist country under the rule of law, in growing the socialist market economy and reinforcing the basic socialist economic system, in pursuing people-centered development, in protecting the people’s rights and interests in accordance with the law, in promoting human rights, and in modernizing the state system and capacity for governance.
The Civil Code is an integration of the civil laws that have been enacted over the past 70 years since the founding of the PRC. It has drawn on the essence of the 5,000-year-old Chinese legal tradition, as well as the achievements of other civilizations in the rule of law. It is in accord with the socialist nature of our country, the wishes and interests of our people, and the requirements of contemporary development. It highlights equal protection of people’s rights and interests concerning life, health, property, transactions, happiness and dignity. It carries distinctive Chinese features, guides practice, and has strong contemporary relevance. To implement the Civil Code in earnest, we must focus on the following.
First, we must raise public awareness of the significance of the Civil Code. It must be made clear that the implementation of the Civil Code is essential to protecting the people’s rights and interests and achieving people-centered development. The Civil Code regulates personal relationships and property relationships among natural persons, legal persons, and other parties. These are the most common social and economic relations, which manifest themselves in all aspects of social and economic activity, and are integral to people’s life and work and the development of all sectors. Only when the Civil Code is well implemented can the people’s rights and interests be effectively protected, and social order and harmony be maintained.
It must be made clear that the implementation of the Civil Code is essential to growing the socialist market economy and strengthening the basic socialist economic system. The Civil Code has codified China’s major institutional achievements in the socialist market economy and the socialist rule of law in the past decades. As it regulates the economy as well as the property relationships and transactional relationships essential to economic activities, the Civil Code is of great significance in upholding and improving the basic socialist economic system and boosting the socialist market economy.
It must be made clear that the implementation of the Civil Code is essential to improving our Party’s capacity for governance. The Civil Code is an important institutional vehicle for law-based governance. Many of its stipulations are directly related to state agencies, and to the rights, interests and obligations of citizens and legal persons. In performing duties and exercising power, state agencies must be very clear about the scope and boundaries of their activities. Party and state agencies at all levels must respect the stipulations of the Civil Code, and must not infringe upon the lawful civil rights of any individual, including personal rights and property rights. Furthermore, relevant government agencies, supervisory offices and judicial departments must function in accordance with the law to protect civil rights from being violated and to promote order and harmony in civil relations. The effective implementation of the Civil Code is an important index for evaluating the performance of all levels of Party and state agencies in serving the people.
Second, we must improve civil legislation. The promulgation and implementation of the Civil Code does not mean that all problems in civil laws have been resolved once and for all; on the contrary, many issues need to be tested and studied in practice, and the laws need to be further refined, supplemented and supported by relevant statutes. Relevant state agencies must meet the changing needs of reform and opening up and socialist modernization, and thereby improve laws and regulations related to the Civil Code. By summarizing experience, we need to constantly amend the laws and regulations related to the Civil Code and judicial interpretations. As to administrative regulations that are inconsistent with the stipulations and principles of the Civil Code, we must amend or revoke them without delay. We will issue judicial interpretations to clarify the provisions of the Civil Code and the legal grounds of its application, so that it can remain both consistent and adaptive.
“The law must be adaptive to the changing times, so that social order and stability are maintained.” As social and economic relationships keep changing along with social and economic progress, new problems will always emerge during the implementation of the Civil Code. In the fight against Covid-19, we have seen new technologies, new industries, and new forms of businesses emerge, and our ways of life, work and socializing have changed accordingly, which prompt new subjects for civil legislation. We must focus on solving problems and adapt ourselves to technological progress, striving to constantly improve the Civil Code based on our experience.
Third, we must strengthen the enforcement of the Civil Code. We must see that law is enforced in a strict, procedure-based, impartial and non-abusive way, and we must raise public confidence in the judiciary. This is an effective means to assert the authority of the Civil Code. Governments at all levels must ensure the effective implementation of the Civil Code, as a major channel for building law-based government. The Civil Code must serve as a key yardstick for administrative decision-making, administration and scrutiny. The government must never violate the law in making decisions that curtail or damage the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, or expand their obligations. Government activities must abide by the law, whether in administrative licensing, penalty, coercion, expropriation, charges, inspection, or adjudication. The government must improve its capacity and performance in law-based administration, and punish any acts or individuals that harm the lawful rights and interests of the public.
Civil cases are most directly and closely connected with public rights and interests. Upholding impartial administration of justice, judicial departments at all levels must increase their capacity and efficiency for adjudicating civil cases. The delivery of civil justice must be improved, particularly in terms of the quality of case handling and public confidence in the judiciary. We must improve the judicial interpretation of other civil laws to ensure their consistency with the stipulations and principles in the Civil Code and to adopt unified application standards of all civil laws. We must improve adjudication of civil cases and provide better oversight and guidance, particularly concerning the protection of property rights, right to dignity, intellectual property rights, and the eco-environment, and respond to public concerns in a timely manner. We must improve prosecuting work regarding civil cases, strengthen supervision of judicial activities, provide unimpeded channels for judicial remedy, and prevent intervention in civil and economic disputes on the pretext of handling criminal cases, so as to protect the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations.
The Civil Code is a very specialized law. In applying the Code, we should bring into full play the role of lawyers and law firms. These professionals and professional organizations should help people to realize and protect their lawful rights and interests. At the same time, we must leverage diverse mechanisms for resolving disputes, such as people’s mediation and commercial arbitration, and improve legal aid and judicial remedies. The engagement of non-governmental entities and grassroots organizations in solving civil disputes will also facilitate the implementation of the Civil Code.
Fourth, we must popularize the Civil Code nationwide. The Civil Code is composed of 1,260 articles in 7 books, with a total of over 100,000 Chinese characters. In China’s whole legal system it is the biggest in size and the most complex in structure, with the largest number of articles. To implement the Civil Code properly, we must ensure it is widely understood and well received by the public. We will popularize the Civil Code nationwide, as part of our legal education campaign during the 14th Five-year Plan period (2021-2025). We will raise public awareness that the Civil Code is a law to protect their rights and interests, as well as a set of norms that all members of society must observe. We will help them develop an awareness of abiding by the law, looking to the law when running into problems, and relying on the law to resolve problems. We will include the Civil Code into the national education system, and strengthen education among young people.
The Civil Code contains a large number of terms that require accurate interpretation. We need to fully comprehend the essence and key points of the General Part and the six books on specific topics. In so doing, we can convey its underlying principles of equality, free will, fairness and good faith. We need to explain clearly its basic stipulations of ensuring the equal legal status of all parties in civil activities, protecting property rights, facilitating transactions, protecting human dignity, promoting family harmony, and identifying tort liability, and in the process give an accurate interpretation of the new stipulations, new concepts and new principles in the Civil Code.
Fifth, we must improve theoretical research on our civil law system. Since reform and opening up was launched in 1978, China has achieved notable progress in theoretical research on civil law and the relevant discourse system. However, this theoretical progress is not working in parallel with our legal acts that keep changing with the passing of time. We must persist in making the theory of Chinese socialist rule of law our guidance and proceed from realities, to improve theoretical research on the civil law system. We must move faster to build a theoretical system and a discourse on civil laws that display the socialist nature of our country, carry distinctive Chinese features, guide practice, and remain responsive to the times. These systems will provide theoretical support for implementing the Civil Code and developing our civil legal instruments.
Party and state agencies at all levels must take the lead in publicizing the Civil Code, facilitating and guaranteeing its full, effective implementation, and strengthening inspection and supervision. Leading officials at all levels must set a good example in studying, observing and upholding the Civil Code. We must improve our capacity and performance in using the Civil Code to protect the people’s rights and interests, in resolving problems and disputes, and in promoting social harmony and stability.
* Part of the speech at the 20th group study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee.
(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)