III. The People's Congress System
The people's congress system is the fundamental political system by which the Chinese people act as masters of the state. The Chinese people exercise state power through the National People's Congress (NPC) and the local people's congresses at various levels.
China has adopted a unicameral parliamentary system based on its national conditions, rather than the bicameral system instituted in Western countries. The Chinese Constitution stipulates: the NPC of the PRC is the highest organ of state power. In China, all administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the state are created by the people's congresses to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised. All major issues of the state are decided by the people's congresses. The administrative organs are responsible for implementing the laws, resolutions and decisions adopted by the people's congresses. The courts and procuratorates exercise their respective powers of jurisdiction and prosecution independently, in line with the stipulations of the law, free from interference by any administrative authority, social organization or individual.
The NPC and the local people's congresses at various levels are established through democratic elections. They are responsible to the people and subject to their supervision. The Chinese Constitution states that all citizens who have reached the age of 18 have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnic status, race, sex, occupation, family background, religious belief, education, property status or length of residence, except for persons deprived of political rights in accordance with the law. The deputies to the local people's congresses at county and township levels are elected directly by the electors. Over the years, the population that has enjoyed the right to vote and stand for election has accounted for more than 99 percent of the number of citizens at or above the age of 18, and the ratio of participation in elections has been around 90 percent. Due to China's realities, the deputies to the people's congresses above the county level are elected indirectly, that is, by the people's congress at the immediately lower level. A competitive election system is adopted in both direct and indirect elections in accordance with the law. The electors and the electoral units have the power to recall or replace deputies they have elected according to the procedures prescribed by law. At present, there are 2.8 million deputies to the people's congresses at all levels nationwide, and they are from various ethnic groups, trades, social strata and political parties and are therefore highly representative. The deputies from workers and farmers account for a considerable proportion of deputies to people's congresses at different levels. For instance, worker and farmer deputies account for 18.4 percent of the total number of deputies to the Tenth NPC (March 2003-March 2008). To ensure that state power is truly in the hands of the entire people, the deputies must convey and represent the interests and will of the people when exercising their functions and powers. They have the right to propose bills, examine and discuss bills and reports, and vote on bills in accordance with the law, and may not be held legally liable for their speeches or votes at the meetings of the people's congresses.
The Chinese Constitution and law stipulate that the term of office of each NPC and each of local people's congresses at various levels is five years, and the NPC meets in session once a year, and local people's congresses at various levels meet at least once a year. The Election Law of People's Congresses also prescribes that the number of deputies to each NPC shall not exceed 3,000. Since the number of deputies to the NPC is fairly large and makes it inconvenient to hold frequent meetings, the NPC Standing Committee is established in accordance with the stipulation of the Constitution to exercise the functions and powers of the highest organ of state power when the NPC is not in session. The NPC Standing Committee normally meets once every two months. It is composed of one chairperson, a number of vice-chairpersons, one secretary-general and a number of members. The Standing Committee of the Tenth NPC has 175 members, including one chairperson and 15 vice-chairpersons. Standing committees have also been established by local people's congresses at and above the county level. The members of the Standing Committee of the NPC and standing committees of the local people's congresses at and above the county level are elected from among the deputies to the people's congresses in competitive elections, and for the same term as the NPC and local people's congresses at the corresponding levels.
The people's congresses and their standing committees pursue a democratic style of work, draw on the wisdom of all deputies, and represent and convey the will and basic interests of the people. The principle of absolute majority is observed when the people's congresses and their standing committees vote on bills, that is, a bill can only be adopted by the agreement of more than half of the total number of members. Amendments to the Constitution are adopted by a vote of more than two-thirds of all the deputies to the NPC.
When the people's congresses and their standing committees hold meetings, persons in charge of departments concerned may attend as non-voting delegates, and the departments and individuals concerned may audit. Those attending as non-voting delegates have the right to speak, but not the right to vote. Those auditing are not entitled to speak. If they have any comment on the bills discussed by the standing committee, they may submit their opinions to the working organ of the standing committee in writing. In recent years, the standing committees in some localities have opened their doors to citizens who wish to be observers at their meetings. The auditors are chosen in sequence of applications of citizens.
The people's congresses have four main functions and powers: legislation, supervision, appointment and removal of officials, and making decisions on major issues. These functions are a major reflection of the way the Chinese people exercise their power as masters of the state through the system of people's congress.
- Power of legislation. The Chinese Constitution states that the NPC and its Standing Committee exercise the legislative power of the state, mainly to amend the Constitution, and enact and amend the basic laws concerning criminal offences, civil affairs, state organs and other matters. The people's congress at provincial level and its standing committee may, in the light of the specific conditions and practical needs of that particular administrative area, enact local regulations under the precondition that the regulations they enact must not contravene the Constitution, the law or the administrative regulations of the state. The people's congress of a big city and its standing committee may, in the light of the specific conditions and practical needs of the city, enact local regulations under the precondition that the regulations they enact must not contravene either the Constitution, the law or the administrative regulations of the state, or the regulations of the province or autonomous region the city belongs to, and submit the newly enacted local regulations to the standing committee of the people's congress of the province or autonomous region for approval before they are put into effect. The people's congress and its standing committee of a province or city that has special economic zones may, in line with authorization by the NPC, enact local regulations that take effect within the special economic zones. The people's congresses of the ethnic autonomous areas have the power to enact regulations on the exercise of autonomy and other separate regulations in the light of the political, economic and cultural characteristics of the ethnic group(s), and make appropriate adaptations of the laws and administrative regulations.
In the three decades from 1949, when the PRC was founded, to 1978, the NPC formulated 134 laws, 16 of which are still in force today. When the reform and opening-up policies were initiated in the late 1970s, China's socialist democratic legal construction entered a new era. In 1982, the NPC revised the Constitution, and adopted four amendments to it in the ensuing years. So far, the NPC and its Standing Committee have enacted more than 200 laws that are still in effect and over 200 decisions on legal issues. The local people's congresses and their standing committees have enacted more than 7,500 local regulations that are still in effect, and the people's congresses of ethnic autonomous areas have enacted more than 600 regulations on the exercise of autonomy and other regulations.
In recent years, democracy has been promoted continuously in China's legislation. Experts are invited to give their opinions at symposia organized on the draft of almost every bill. In some cases, the legislative organ even entrusts specialized research institutions to draft the bills. For bills aiming at adjusting important social relations, the standing committees of local people's congresses often hold hearings to let parties with different interests voice their opinions. The Legislation Law of China has included provisions on legislative hearings. Since 1982, the NPC and its Standing Committee have published the drafts of a dozen important bills that are closely related to the immediate interests of the people, including the amendments to the Constitution, the draft for revision of the Marriage Law, the draft of the Contract Law, and the draft of the Property Law, to solicit public opinion during the process of formulation. The direct participation of the people in the formulation of laws has not only improved the quality of legislation and ensured that the laws fully represent the will and demands of the people, but has also enhanced the whole society's sense of law, so that the laws can be enforced in a smooth way after adoption.
- Power of supervision. To supervise the enforcement of the Constitution and the law is a major content of the supervisory power exercised by the NPC and its Standing Committee. The basic way such supervision is carried out is by examination of the enforcement of laws and by checking the reporting of regulations for the record. Regarding the examination of law enforcement, the Standing Committee of the Ninth NPC conducted 22 examinations of the enforcement of 21 laws, and the Standing Committee of the Tenth NPC examined the enforcement of 10 laws in the period 2003-2004. The standing committees of the local people's congresses have also examined the enforcement of laws and relevant regulations within their respective administrative areas. Through the examination of law enforcement, the standing committees of the people's congresses have obtained detailed information about the true situation and existing problems in the enforcement of laws and regulations, and urged the governments, the courts and the procuratorates at the same level to improve their law-enforcement work, and thus ensured that the organs in charge of law enforcement act in accordance with the law and exercise judicial power justly. Regarding checking on the reporting of regulations for the record, more than 7,500 local regulations, 600 regulations on the exercise of autonomy and separate regulations, and nearly 300 regulations applied to the special economic zones have so far been filed to the NPC Standing Committee for the record. The Standing Committee of the Tenth NPC has set up a special examining organ to further standardize this work. The standing committees of the people's congresses at the provincial level and of big cities have also examined, in accordance with the law, the reporting of rules and regulations for the record by the local governments. Through these efforts, rules and regulations that contravene the Constitution and the law are annulled, and organs that have formulated regulations that include inappropriate articles and clauses are urged to correct them. This is of great significance for keeping the legal system of the state in unison. In recent years, the NPC Standing Committee has started to examine the reporting for the record of judicial interpretations by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
To supervise the work of the governments, the courts and the procuratorates are another important part of the supervisory power of the people's congresses and their standing committees at the corresponding level. To hear and review the work reports of the State Council, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate are a basic means by which the NPC and its Standing Committee exercise their power of supervision. When the people's congresses are in session, the people's governments, people's courts and people's procuratorates at the same level shall report their work to the session, and the people's governments shall submit their draft budgets and draft plans for national economic and social development, and the draft budgets shall be reviewed for approval by the session. When the standing committees of the people's congresses are in session, they hear work reports and reports on issues that are significant to the reform, development and stability, as well as urgent topics or difficulties that are related to the immediate interests of the people. The Standing Committee of the Ninth NPC heard and reviewed 40 special reports during its five-year tenure, and the Standing Committee of the Tenth NPC has heard and reviewed 22 special reports in the first two years of its tenure.
- Power of personnel appointment and removal. The people's congresses and their standing committees have the power to elect, decide on, appoint or remove, replace or recall members of relevant organs of state power. The NPC elects the president and the vice-president of the PRC, and the chairperson of the Central Military Commission of the state; decides on the choice of the premier of the State Council upon nomination by the president; decides on the choice of the vice-premiers, state councilors, ministers in charge of various ministries or commissions, the auditor-general and the secretary-general of the State Council upon nomination by the premier; upon nomination by the chairman of the Central Military Commission of the state, decides on the choice of all other members of the Central Military Commission; and elects the president of the Supreme People's Court and the procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate. The local people's congresses at all levels exercise their power to elect, decide on, appoint or remove, replace or recall members of local organs of state power in accordance with the law.
- Power to making decisions regarding major issues. The NPC is entitled by the Constitution to approve the establishment of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the central government, decide on the establishment of special administrative regions and the systems to be instituted there, and decide on questions of war and peace, and other major issues. Issues that are significant to the national economy and social development, such as the Three Gorges Project, can only be implemented after a resolution has been made by the NPC. In recent years, the people's congresses and their standing committees have exercised their power to make decisions on urban construction planning, environmental protection and other major issues in their own areas.
Practice has proved that the system of people's congress is a fundamental political system that is in accord with the national conditions of China, embodies the nature of the socialist state of China and ensures the people to be the masters of the country. It has taken root among the masses and, therefore, is full of vigor; it represents the common will and fundamental interests of the people, and motivates the whole people to plunge in state construction as the masters of the state, guarantees that state organs operate in a coordinated and efficient way, and safeguards national unification and ethnic unity. Through the system of people's congress, the Chinese people of all ethnic groups hold the future and destiny of the state and the nation firmly in their own hands.