Civil Rights In China: Does It Really Exist?

Human beings have innate human rights. Among these rights are your civil rights. Civil rights simply mean an individual’s right to social and political freedom and equality. Being able to express your political opinions freely and not be persecuted for it is an example. Being protected from discrimination and freedom of speech, thought, press, religion, assembly, and movement is other examples of civil rights.

A person’s liberty and civil rights are often restricted in a country like China. It is not uncommon to hear horror stories of human and civil right abuses happening rampantly all over the country because that’s just the way of life in the Land of the Red Dragon. However, it does not mean that dissent is unheard of. There are uprisings here and there and some of the few brave souls protest these abuses done by the government to its people but many times their voices are repressed through persecution and making them prisoners of the state. The one party system in China is mostly to blame with this ongoing repression. And we will probably see major changes to come their way as China finally overhauls their civil law after 30 long years. It is probably high time they do that considering how times have changed today.

Following the examination of three draft versions of the General Rules of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China (“the Rules”), the final version of the Rules has been adopted at the Fifth Session of the 12th National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (the “PRC”) on 15 March 2017. The Rules will be effective from 1 October 2017

The Rules contain 206 provisions divided into eleven chapters covering fundamental principles, natural persons, legal persons, unincorporated organisations, civil rights, civil juristic acts, proxies, civil liability, statutes of limitation, calculation of periods of time and supplementary provisions. Many of these topics were provided for in the General Principles of Civil Law of the PRC (the “GPL”) which was adopted by the People’s Congress on 12 April 1986 and has been in effect for 30 years since 1 January 1987

The Rules are considered to be a key development in the legislative process that will eventually result in the PRC having a civil code. The PRC does not currently have a civil code but adheres to the fragmented laws and regulations of the GPL as well as other civil regulations. The GPL will not be replaced by the Rules and will remain valid. Where there are discrepancies between Rules and the GPL, the Rules will prevail. Eventually, the GPL, the Rules and the other civil regulations will be replaced by a civil code. The National People’s Congress has announced that the civil code will be in place by 2020.


These rules that are now introduced are aimed to protect civil rights and establish the rule of law in China. Perhaps this is the start when the world won’t see as many civil arrests of Chinese activists or probably witness greater transparency in the government’s functions.

The changes are part of President Xi Jinping’s wider push to align the legal system with the country’s social and economic modernisation and for some legal reformers, the code is a test of how far China will go in allowing civil liberties that might impinge upon state power.

“Civil law is the fundamental doctrine for a country’s legal system, the source of its basic essence,” Liang Ying, head of the NPC Legislative Affairs Research institute, told state media on Sunday.

“A foundational civil (law) system is an important sign of whether a country’s legal system is mature.”

Xi has made governing the nation by law a top priority of his tenure though he has drawn a line at allowing the courts to expand their power at the expense of the Communist Party’s control. Since pledging to reform and open in 1978, China has been gradually shifting its legal system away from a socialist law towards something closer to a European-style legal system.

In 2011, China declared that “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” had been established, but officials themselves say China’s laws remains a work in progress.


This legal reform will likely be helpful in addressing sensitive topics involving the children and the elderly as well. A 2011 incident where a toddler was hit-and-run was ignored by multiple passersby is a sensitive issue that comes to the mind of many. Moreover, the new law can also help define the scope of basic rights of individuals.

China will likely remain to be a big mystery to the rest of the world considering how long it has kept itself in the dark. We are actually only starting to get to know more about this emerging superpower and we can’t help but be amazed at how much China has accomplished over the past few years, capable of taking their economy to new heights, improving their military and increasing their influence to the world at large at the expense of the trampled rights of its citizens, which will hopefully will be less and less moving forward.

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