NPC Observer Monthly: September 2023
NPC's new five-year legislative plan. Official response to controversy over "hurt feelings" law. Online campaign against "tampon tax." Plus: our plan to address link rot.
Welcome back to NPC Observer Monthly, a monthly newsletter about China’s national legislature: the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC).
Each issue will start with “News of the Month,” a recap of major NPC-related events from the previous month, with links to any coverage we have published on our main site, NPC Observer. If, during that month, we have also written posts that aren’t tied to current events, I’ll then provide a round-up in “Non-News of the Month.” Finally, depending on the month and my schedule, I may end an issue with musings on an NPC-related topic that is in some way connected to the past month.
If you enjoyed this issue, I hope you’ll consider sharing it. —Changhao
News of the Month
On September 1, the 14th NPCSC concluded its fifth session, which we had already covered in the last month’s issue:
On September 1, the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau Ecological Conservation Law [青藏高原生态保护法] (adopted on Apr. 26, 2023) and Barrier-Free Environments Development Law [无障碍环境建设法] (adopted on June 28, 2023) took effect.
On September 7, the 14th NPCSC released its five-year legislative plan (Plan), setting the contours of its legislation through 2028. A day earlier, it held a quinquennial legislative work conference [立法工作会议], at which it announced the Communist Party’s approval of the Plan and NPCSC Chairman Zhao Leiji delivered a speech laying out the guiding principles for the NPC’s legislative work this term.
Like its previous iterations, the [Plan] places legislative projects in three groups, Category I to III, in descending priority (or ripeness). With 79 projects in Category I and 51 in Category II, for a total of 130, the [Plan] is the second most ambitious one yet in the NPC’s history . . . . In addition, Category III of the [Plan] includes about a dozen broad areas for potential legislation, but indicates further research is still needed to evaluate exactly what projects are necessary and feasible. Unlike its previous iterations, the [Plan] for the first time lists two general legislative tasks at the end of Category I: the first to advance the compilation of additional legal codes, and the other to initiate efforts to “clean up” [清理] national laws (i.e., a comprehensive review of existing legislation to identify outdated provisions and conflicts among laws and to then address those issues).
I also published an analysis of the Plan, the first of two parts, in which I discussed the principles of agenda-setting embodied in the Plan, examined the fate of the projects the last NPC planned but didn’t complete, and looked at the areas of law that are featured prominently in the Plan.
On September 11, the spokesperson’s office of the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission issued a rare public statement on the controversy over the draft revision to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law [治安管理处罚法]. As far as I’m aware, this was the first time that office (established in August 2019) issued a statement over public reaction to a pending bill. And that bill, of course, is the one that would penalize clothing or speech that “is detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people or hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.” My colleague Jeremy Daum has recently posted an overview of key proposed changes in the draft revision.
The statement for the most part just recited the relevant rules of legislative procedure and the basic information about the then-ongoing public consultation on the bill. But importantly it also said:
The public’s submission of comments on draft laws through normal channels is a concrete expression of the people’s concern for and orderly participation in national legislative work and is of great significance, and we sincerely welcome it. [The NPCSC Legislative Affair Commission] will carefully sort out and study the various opinions submitted by the public and relevant parties on the draft laws for public consultation, including provisions thereof that have caused concern, and will put forward suggestions for revising and improving them or properly handling them.
Public consultation on the bill ended on September 30, and it received a total of 125,962 comments from 99,375 commenters. It is thus the fourth most “popular” bill in a decade—after the October 2019 draft of the Civil Code Part on Marriage and Family [民法典婚姻家庭编] (213,634 commenters1); the June 2020 draft of the Veterans Protection Law [退役军人保障法] (132,845); and the September 2018 draft of all separate parts of the Civil Code (111, 208).
On September 11, the NPCSC convened a meeting on establishing a reporting system through which the people’s congresses oversee the management of government debt. Late last month, the NPCSC leadership heard a report on establishing such a system at the national level. Given the rapid pace of developments, the State Council may submit the first such report as soon as October.
On September 28, the Supreme People’s Court’s pilot program to reorient the adjudicatory roles of China’s four levels of courts, authorized by the NPCSC in 2021, expired without having been codified. In the last month’s issue, I briefly discussed the basics of the pilot program, the problems that arose, and the shelving of a bill that would have codified part of the reform. Prior to the pilot’s expiration, the Court issued transitional rules for handling pending cases. While this court-role reform was not the first unsuccessful pilot program,2 it was certainly the first one to fail so publicly. But that’s not a bad thing—no pilot program should be presumed to succeed, and so long as the responsible institution understood why it didn’t work as expected (which the Court did in this case), the pilot fulfilled its purpose.
On September 30, the NPCSC concluded public consultation on five bills. I’ve already discussed the considerable public input on the draft public-security offenses law. The bill with the second most comments was . . . the second draft of the Value-Added Tax Law [增值税法]. The number of people who commented on it jumped almost a hundredfold in the last week of the consultation period: from 238 on September 23 to 20,002 at the close of comments.
The driving force behind the surge in public participation appears to be Period Pride [月事骄傲], a Chinese non-profit dedicated to menstrual hygiene and health. On September 27, it launched an online campaign calling on citizens to advocate for eliminating or lowering China’s “tampon tax” (or period tax [月经税], the term used by Period Pride) by commenting on the bill, and posted a step-by-step guide to submitting comment, along with suggested revisions and reasoning.
China’s value-added tax on feminine hygiene products is termed a tampon tax because they are subject to the highest rate of 13%, when other necessities are either taxed at the lower rate of 9% (e.g., water and gas) or exempt from the tax (e.g., contraceptives). The cost of menstrual products remains prohibitive to many underprivileged women and girls in China, who have to resort to cheaper but inferior products or other unhygienic alternatives. It was estimated in 2020 that 4 million girls in China faced “period poverty.”
Last month, the NPC released the official (but non-binding) English translations of two laws:
Foreign State Immunity Law [外国国家豁免法] (adopted Sept. 1, 2023, effective Jan. 1, 2024); and
Scientific and Technological Progress Law [科学技术进步法] (as revised Dec. 24, 2021, effective Jan. 1, 2022).
The NPC and Link Rot
The NPC has the worst official website among China’s main central state institutions,3 whether in terms of aesthetics or functionality. And that website became just a bit worse earlier last month when the NPC’s hardworking IT department implemented a near-universal change in the site’s URL format—without using automatic redirects—sometime on September 8–9 (the start of a weekend). The action thus instantly disabled almost all our links to the NPC website, which is . . . a lot of links. Given this was, in fact, the third instance of acute NPC-caused link rot in less than five years, and because link rot is a wider problem that goes beyond the NPC website, I decided to conclude this newsletter by discussing our plans to address the latest incident and to prevent link rot going forward.
The NPC’s recent URL change most seriously affected the bill pages as a category, as each page’s links to the relevant legislative records no longer work. Other posts and pages on NPC Observer collectively also contain countless now-dead links to materials on the NPC website. Here’s our plan to address this situation:
For post-March 2023 bill pages (i.e., pages for bills adopted by the 14th and future NPCs), we will first link to the legislative records posted on the NPC website soon after a bill passes. After the records are published in the NPCSC Gazette a few months later, we will then
replace those links with individual PDFs extracted from the Gazette[UPDATE (Oct 4, 2023): I had decided in the end to upload a single PDF for each bill and link to the corresponding page of the PDF for each record (like this), but forgot to change this sentence before publication. My apologies!] I’ve already updated existing bill pages in this category.
For each pre-March 2023 bill page, we will upload a single PDF consisting of all relevant legislative records and link to it on the page as shown below. Each PDF will include bookmarks for easy navigation. I’m still updating bill pages in this category and will need several more weeks to finish.
For other existing posts and posts, we simply don’t have the time and energy to update every single dead link. Instead, we ask our readers to report dead links by using this form to help us prioritize. We will make sure, however, that each document in these two archives has a working link.
Going forward, we will archive external links using perma.cc, a web-archiving service built by Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab, in accordance with the following rules. You’ll note that we won’t archive every single external link, because archiving creates more work for us, perma.cc is blocked in mainland China, and the service is not always available to every member of our team. (The Wayback Machine, though free to use, is also inaccessible in China and takes much longer to archive a link.)
We generally won’t archive sources not subject to mainland China’s censorship regime. The links to such sources (at least the ones we tend to cite) are fairly stable in our experience. For instance, we won’t archive Wikipedia or Wikisource pages or articles by news outlets like The New York Times, but will archive tweets and sources of a similar nature, as well as links from other sites that don’t appear as reliable to us.
Conversely, we generally will archive sources subject to mainland China’s censorship regime. That includes links to all official government websites (except for legislative records as discussed earlier), all publications by domestic media outlets (state-run or otherwise), and all WeChat articles. As a general exception to this rule, we won’t archive any source that we cite in full. For primary sources, a full citation for this purpose requires only the document’s full Chinese title. For secondary sources, a full citation must include the essential information that enables readers to independently locate the source (we generally follow The Bluebook in citing secondary sources). This full-citation exception doesn’t apply to any mainland Chinese source available only online due to the risk of censorship.
These rules apply to both our main site and this newsletter. I will try my best to follow them but can’t promise full compliance. (Hey, you get what you pay for! 😎)
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That’s all for this month’s issue. Thanks for reading!
The campaign organized by a coalition of Chinese LGBTQ organizations advocating for marriage equality led to this unprecedented level of public participation.
That is, if we ignore the fact that the Supreme People’s Court’s entire website is currently geo-blocked outside mainland China.