China's key legislative body is expected to come up with a preliminary draft of the nation's first civil code this summer.
The code is scheduled to be presented to the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC) for a first reading in December after passing key tests.
It was revealed by Wang Shengming, director of the Civil Legislation Office with the Legal Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, in an exclusive interview with China Daily.
The civil code offers basic regulations on almost every activity that a corporation may take such as trade, leasing, transportation, storage, fund-raising, settlement and the development of new products.
It also offers guidelines for any individual on food, clothing, shelter and transportation - basic necessities of life and recreation, marriage and family, among other daily activities.
"It is a critical piece of legislation to safeguard the rights of individuals and corporations and an indispensable basic law to regulate the market economy," Wang said.
He said the codification and popularization of the civil code are urgently needed and will have an immense impact on the country's transformation from a planned economy to a market economy and to the rule of law.
"I am confident of reaching this goal although it is an arduous task considering the limited time we have and taking the far-ranging spectrum of the civil code into consideration," Wang said.
"The development and deepening of reform and opening-up have laid the most solid social groundwork for the civil code," Wang said.
He was echoed by Wang Liming, a civil law professor with Renmin University of China, who said the increasing awareness of the Chinese people of their individual rights by law has added urgency to the establishment of a civil code.
China stipulated in 1992 that the goal of its economic reform was to build a socialist market economy.
The nation's entry to the World Trade Organization, which took effect in December, means that its macro-adjustment and control of economy and trade will have to be in tune with international rules which reflect civil rules in many ways, Wang Shengming said.
Wang Liming said loopholes in current civil laws, which pose great challenges for judges, also call for an early emergence of a civil code, a legal yardstick for judging contractual and tortuous disputes.
He said the lack of a clear definition of privacy and basic regulations on environmental infringement, traffic accidents and medical incidents often put the judges in an embarrassing situation.
Chinese courts handled 5,076,694 civil cases last year - almost seven times as many criminal cases - according to figures of the Supreme People's Court.
Li Peng, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, has paid great attention to the codification and vowed to complete a basic legal system within his five-year tenure.
Both Wang Shengming and Wang Liming agreed it is impossible to establish a basic legal system that suits the needs of the market economy without a civil code.
"The huge volume of current civil legislation which has been tested for years give a sound legislative foundation for us to complete the task in time," Wang Shengming said.
In the past two decades, China has developed a bulk of separate civil legislation including the General Principles of Civil Law in 1986, which is still acting as a basic civil law in the nation today.
Wang Shengming's commission has worked out a draft property law, an important part of the civil code.
He said the rapid progress in academic study of foreign civil legislation has also offered a strong theoretical preparation for China's own civil code.
Wang Shengming's office started codifying the civil code in January.
They have also delegated the task of drafting the legal experts' version of the legislation, a valuable reference for legislative officials, to six top-notch civil law scholars who are expected to hand in their drafts at the end of this month.
It is estimated that the future civil code will comprise around 1,500 to 2,000 articles, the most voluminous legislation in the nation so far, according to Liang Huixing, a civil law researcher with the Institute of Law under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He estimated that it may need three to four years for the code to win final approval.
Basic laws such as the civil code have to be voted for by the full session of the NPC which gathers once a year after deliberations by the NPC Standing Committee, according to China's Legislative Procedure Law.
(China Daily March 15, 2002)