Chinese (PRC) Laws On The Internet

Introduction

As a consequence of the underdevelopment of the legal system in the Peoples’ Republic of China (“PRC”), the legal research and legal information supporting systems were primitive before the 1980s. Online resources were almost non-existant.

With the rapid development of the economy and reforms in the law of the 1970s and 1980s, the demands for a modern legal information system arose. The rapid development of computer and Internet technology from the 1990s provided an unprecedented opportunity to build a legal information system. The Internet has very quickly become a unique vehicle for legal information storage and access in PRC.

The endeavours by parties within and outside the PRC have led to the emergence of a virtual China law library in cyberspace. The vast availability of Chinese legal resources, including full text law databases (commercial and non-commercial), online legal publications, websites with research tools including library online catalogs, legal services and the jurists networks, is certainly varied, if not confusing.

However, due to the lack of adequate quality control on legal publishing, the accuracy and authority of the existing online databases are sometimes doubtful. Furthermore, law databases produced by volunteers or less qualified commercial agencies also undermine the reliability and authenticity of the online legal resources.

According to the law of the PRC, legal compilation and electronic publishing should be examined, approved, and then published by a specific governmental agency assigned by legislature. The sole lawful publisher for the national laws should be the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the Bureau of Legislative Affaires of the State Council..

The PRC Legal System

When Rene David was reviewing the Chinese codification of the 1930s in his Major Legal System in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law, he concluded that “Chinese law…can be ranked within the family of laws deriving from the Romanist tradition”. Today, the laws of the PRC to a large degree still share the characteristics of the civil law system rather than those of the common law. As David pointed out, this can be partly attributed to the Europeanisation of China tuwards the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. This is in addition to the fact that the PRC has inherited a Chinese legal tradition: the statutes or codes (written law) were highly valued even back to the Qin Dynasty in 221-207 BC.

Though the Chinese legal system claims to be distinct from all other legal systems, jurists of the PRC follow rules of the civil law family. The legislation of the PRC reflects a structural similarity to countries in the Romano-Germanic family. Moreover, the Chinese jurists value legal doctrines and hold written law in high esteem. Judicial decisions are not officially considered as a source of law unlike in the common law system.

The formation and progress of the modern legal system in mainland China had been disturbed by a series of successive political upheaveals from 1949 (when the Communists came into power) to 1976. Before the Criminal Code was enacted in 1979, the Constitution Law passed in 1954 was the only statute for 25 years. The government operated largely on the policies and orders of the Communist Party. The rule of law was not part of the legal landscape until the massive legislation changes that started in the late 1980s, after the Party decided to adopt the “opening-up policy” to develop the market economic system in the late 1970s. Now, China has a comprehensive scheme of legislation, including national laws, administrative regulations, and local laws.

The statutes enacted by the National People’s Congress, which include the constitutional laws, civil codes, and criminal codes, have the highest authority. Administrative regulations by the State Council (China’s cabinet) can not be in conflict with these statutes. The decided cases by various levels of judicial institutions are not official sources of law, though decisions of the Supreme People’s Court are factually used as a guideline in the practice of lower courts when the provision of law is unclear. Local laws and regulations are enacted by provincial legislatures and governments. Although in theory, such local laws are subservient to national laws, in practice, the local authorities are often more familiar with the local laws and more readily implement such laws to the ‘detriment’ of the national ones.

A List Of PRC Legal Resources on the Internet:

English-language PRC Resources

Where the resources are bi-lingual, they will be listed in the English section with a link to the Chinese-language page.

  • Commercial Sources
    • LawInfo Chinahttp://www.lawinfochina.com/index.asp

      Subscription-based service provided by Chinalawinfo Co., Ltd. English-language versions of all Laws & Regulations and Cases. The Gazettes and Law Journals databases has the complete table of contents of the official gazettes of various government entities as well as a variety of Chinese legal journals. There is also a Chinese-landuage version.

    • China Law Digesthttp://www.chinalawdigest.com/

      Subscription-based service. The China Law Digest is a monthly publication on the Internet, which offers the latest news on legal developments and judicial reform to domestic and foreign subscribers interested in Chinese legal issues. There is also a Chinese-landuage version.

    • China Law Reference Service Onlinehttp://www.clrsonline.com

      Subscription-based service provided by CCH Asia Pte Limited. Translations of all major PRC business laws and regulations nationwide as well as within individual regions. The laws date from 1979 to the present. CLRSonline comprises five sections, containing digests or full translations of laws and regulations: Volume 1 – Government, Administration and the Legal System; Volume 2 – Economic Law; Volume 3 – Tax and Finance; Volume 4 – Real Property, Infrastructure and Transport; Volume 5 – Trade, Commerce and Industry. There is also a Chinese-landuage version.

     

  • Non-Commercial Resources 
    • China Internet Information Centerhttp://www.china.com.cn/english/

      This website is an “authorized government portal site to China” and highly resembles an encyclopedia. It is published under the China International Publishing Group and the State Council Information Office; however, it does not use the .gov domain. This site covers topics such as politics, law, science and technology, and various economics aspects of China. Its “Law and Enforcement” section introduces Chinese law and its latest developments. The site can be searched by using keywords. There are multi-lingual versions of this website.

    • China Courthttp://en.chinacourt.org/index.php

      A Website sponsored by the Supreme People’s Court of the PRC. Contains a list of PRC laws and regulations. There is also a Chinese-landuage version.

    • Chinese Civil Law Forumhttp://www.cclaw.net

      This site is specifically on Chinese commercial law and offers free access to the full text of many Commercial codes. It also contains briefs and discussion on the subject.

     

  • China International Treaties 
    • International Treaties And Bilaeral Agreementshttp://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zzjg/tyfls/tyfl/

      Full list with text of all international treaties and bilateral agreements concluded (or in the process of being concluded) between PRC and other countries.

Chinese-language PRC Resources

  • China Intellectual Property Nethttp://www.cnipr.com/

    Operated by the Patent Document Publishing House, State Intellectual Property Office of P.R. China. Provides searches to trademarks, patent and other intellectual property information.

  • Chinalawnethttp://www.chinalawnet.com

    This bilingual website by Zhongli Legal Information is very closely associated with the Ministry of Justice and other agencies, even though it has claimed itself to be an independent information institution since 1999. Free access to comprehensive law databases with search capacities is provided. The English version contains close to 800 documents, and also includes an index. The most valuable component of this site is its extensive information about Chinese attorneys.