Year in Review: The NPC and the Observer in 2023
Stats and highlights of the past year
Welcome to a special issue of NPC Observer Monthly, a (mostly) monthly newsletter about China’s national legislature: the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC).
I made the executive decision of cross-posting (most parts of) the 2023 year-end review we just published on our main site. A sincere thank you to all who read and shared our writings in the past year. If you find our work valuable, please share it widely with your networks in 2024!
Happy New Year! 🎉 —Changhao
As we bid farewell to 2023, we reflect on work of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and that of our own in the past year.
The NPC in 2023
2023 was a year of transition. The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) concluded its final session on February 24; its last (quasi-)legislative act was a decision authorizing the Central Military Commission to change court-martial rules in wartime. Nine days later, the 14th NPC first convened in the Great Hall of the People. During its inaugural 8.5-day session, it selected China’s state leaders for the next five years, approved the ninth round of State Council restructuring since the 1980s, and enacted important amendments to the Legislation Law [立法法].
In 2023, the 14th NPCSC held seven sessions, including an emergency session in July to replace Qin Gang as the foreign minister. All told, the NPCSC was in session for 23 days—which, though an improvement from the 19 days in 2022 (when the zero-Covid policy was in effect), was still about 5 days shorter than the pre-pandemic average.
That said, the legislature produced an impressive legislative output in 2023—especially considering it was the first year of its term. Altogether, the NPC and its Standing Committee enacted 6 new laws, approved major changes to 8 laws, and adopted 8 quasi-legislative decisions. An additional 15 bills are pending as of today. For details, please see the lists at the end of this section. [The lists are omitted because Substack says this post would otherwise be too long for email. Check out the original version here.]
And now, we present our annual list of highlights of the NPC’s work in 2023:
A new NPC: In February, 2,977 delegates-elect were certified to sit in the 14th NPC. Among them, almost two-thirds (65.2%) were Han men, and an overwhelming majority (73.2%) were serving in the NPC for the first time. At the new NPC’s first session, those delegates voted in China’s state leaders for the next five years—or until they are unceremoniously removed from office (see highlight #3)—including a 175-member Standing Committee (with Zhao Leji as the chairman) and Xi Jinping as a third-term president. In the fall, the newly constituted legislature released an ambitious five-year legislative plan, setting the contours of its legislation through 2028.
Recording and review (R&R): R&R is the process by which the NPCSC reviews the constitutionality and legality of other state organs’ legislation. And 2023 was the year of codification for this increasingly important facet of the NPCSC’s work. In March, amendments to the Legislation Law added new grounds for requesting NPCSC review and wrote several recent R&R reforms into law. Two days ago, the NPCSC adopted a mini law on R&R that elevated additional R&R reforms to the status of law while introducing new procedures to improve the process. (We are still parsing this new law and hope to post our analysis soon.) On the same day, the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission (which in practice conducts review on the NPCSC’s behalf) released its seventh annual report on R&R. Among other things, the report disclosed the Commission’s decision to halt local governments’ collective punishment of the family members of telecom fraudsters for violating the “principles and spirits” of relevant constitutional as well as statutory and administrative provisions.
Personnel matters: 2023 was one of the rare years when the NPCSC’s personnel actions repeatedly came under the spotlight. In July, it held an emergency session to remove Qin Gang as China’s foreign minister (while keeping him on as a state councilor). Three months later, Qin lost the latter title as well, along with Li Shangfu, China’s erstwhile defense minister, who was stripped of all state positions by the NPCSC. Last Friday (December 29), the NPCSC appointed Li’s successor after a two-month vacancy, while quietly announcing the ousting of nine high-ranking military officials as NPC delegates—a sign of a widening anticorruption probe inside the People’s Liberation Army.
Foreign-related legislation: After codifying “foreign-related” legislation as a long-term priority in March, the national legislature enacted two such laws that received global attention: the Foreign Relations Law [对外关系法], which “puts the PRC’s foreign policy and rhetoric and praxis into law”; and the Foreign State Immunity Law [外国国家豁免法], which will subject foreign states to civil suit in China starting on New Year’s Day. In addition, amendments to the Civil Procedure Law [民事诉讼法], also effective tomorrow, will bring about significant changes to transnational litigation in China. Given the Chinese leadership’s continued emphasis on “advancing foreign-related rule of law,” more foreign-related legislation can be anticipated in the near future.
Controversial public security bill: In September, the NPCSC released a draft revision to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law [治安管理处罚法] for public comment. Because of a provision that would punish clothing or speech that “is detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurts the feelings of the Chinese people,” the bill sparked a strong backlash from the Chinese public. During the 30-day comments period, it received 125,962 online comments from 99,375 individuals, which made it the fourth most “popular” bill in a decade. The controversy also prompted the spokesperson’s office of the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission to issue a rare statement responding to the heightened public attention.
[The following lists are omitted because Substack says this post would otherwise be too long for email. Check out the original version here.]
New laws passed in 2023 . . .
Revisions & major amendments passed in 2023 . . .
Legislative bills pending by the end of 2023 . . .
Quasi-legislative decisions passed in 2023 . . .
NPC Observer in 2023
In June, we expanded our operation for the first time by launching the companion NPC Observer Monthly Substack newsletter. We explained why did it here. After seven months of experimentation, we now have a clearer idea of how to divide contents between the main site and the newsletter. Aside from routine coverage of the legislature (previewing sessions, announcing new draft laws, etc.), the main site will be reserved for longer discussions of news out of the NPC (not limited to legislation) and other relevant current events, as well as primer-type materials on the NPC. In the newsletter, we will note other interesting NPC-related events that do not warrant separate posts—Did you know last year there was an online campaign asking the NPCSC to lower or eliminate China’s “tampon tax”?—and offer quick(er) summaries of new bills or laws. You might find NPC-related trivia there as well.
The newsletter, to reiterate, is intended to only “supplement our coverage of the NPC on this site—not to duplicate it and certainly not to replace it.” Hence, we will keep cross-posting to a minimum, but will liberally deploy cross-linking to make sure readers who do not subscribe to both can find all our substantive coverage on either site.
On the main site, we published 43 posts in 2023 and received a bit more than 125,000 pageviews—a 71% increase over 2022—by just over 60,000 visitors from 185 jurisdictions worldwide. After experiencing our first drop in views in 2022, last year’s traffic rebounded to a new height—surpassing even the record set in 2021 by about 7%. In 2023, readers from the United States, for the sixth year in a row, contributed the most traffic (slightly over a quarter of the total), followed by visitors from Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, mainland China, and Singapore. As Twitter/X continues to deteriorate, we joined Bluesky and Substack Notes and plan to spend more time there in the new year.
Our most viewed post last year was our guide to the 2023 State Council reorganization plan, followed by Dr. Moritz Rudolf’s guest post on the Foreign Relations Law. The Counterespionage Law [反间谍法] page was the most viewed bill page™ in 2023, followed by those for the Foreign Relations Law, the Foreign State Immunity Law, and the Patriotic Education Law [爱国主义教育法].
Beyond launching the newsletter, we made little change to how this site operates in 2023. We did, however, adopted a plan to remedy and prevent link rot after the NPC created an acute link-rot problem for us by changing its official website’s URL format in early September. This is why you may have encountered perma.cc links in more recent publications.
That concludes our programming in 2023. Best wishes to everyone in 2024.
Happy New Year!