National coat of arms of the People's Republic of China

Justice and Jurisprudence

The current legal system is a result of the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980’s. The negative experiences of the cultural revolution, the introduction of free-market processes and increased international cooperation made it necessary to develop new and reliable regulations. Much of the Chinese law has therefore been enacted over the past 30 years. This includes not only economic and foreign trade laws but also civil law provisions, criminal codes, procedural rules, constitutional revisions, etc. The legal canon of the PRC now covers almost all areas of everyday life.

According to ethnicityology, the law of the PRC has not only become more extensive, but has also come closer to international standards in many areas. For example, the presumption of innocence was included in the code of criminal procedure. Since the late 1980’s, there has also been an administrative procedural law and administrative jurisdiction that, at least in theory, allow Chinese citizens to litigate against the state.

The central problem of the Chinese rule of law is less the absence of laws than their poor enforcement. It is telling that 99.9% of the accused are still found guilty. In addition to problems such as corruption and poorly trained staff, there are mainly deficiencies in the judiciary.

The judicial system of the PRC consists of the Supreme People’s Court and people’s courts at various local administrative levels. All judges in the PRC are nominated by the party and elected by the people’s congresses at the appropriate administrative levels. They are not elected for life, but only for five years. Both the appointment process and the limited term of office violate the principle of separation of powers. In addition, important decisions can be negotiated non-publicly in advance by a so-called jurisprudence committee. The president of the court can give the competent judge a judgment.

China remains the country with the highest number of death sentences per year. The PRC has kept the number of executed death sentences a secret. While the number of executions appears to be declining, international observers estimate it is still over 2,000 a year. International criticism aroused the practice of using organs from executed people for transplants.

However, the number of crimes for which the death penalty is imposed has decreased in recent years. Above all, non-violent crimes such as smuggling weapons and nuclear materials, currency forgery, fraudulent fundraising or prostitution offenses are now punishable by life imprisonment.

Trade unions, NGOs and civil society protest

There have been trade unions in China since the beginning of the 20th century. The highest of these trade union bodies is the All-China Trade Union Confederation. Today it has over 280 million members and thus officially represents over 50% of all Chinese workers. The union federation is not, however, an independent employee representation, but rather a state-controlled supervisory authority, whose leadership is determined by the Chinese Communist Party. Independent trade unions, however, are banned.

Despite the lack of assertiveness on the part of the Chinese trade unions, there are repeated strikes at the company level. There were over 6,500 strikes in the PRC between 2012 and 2016, with the number of strikes increasing in recent years. Strikes are neither allowed nor officially prohibited in the PRC. The reaction of the authorities to strike actions is therefore different. On the one hand, there are numerous cases in which strikes have been violently ended by the authorities. On the other hand, strikes are increasingly seen as a means of maintaining social calm and are permitted to a limited extent.

In addition, there is a growing number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which, however, can only act within the framework of state requirements and must fear that the authorities will cease their activities at any time.

Intellectual freedom is becoming increasingly smaller in the PRC, but there are also forms of social protest in the autocratic system of the PRC.

The Hong Kong protest movement

In mid-2019, a protest movement arose in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region against the political interference by the government in Beijing.

As early as 2014, when the new Hong Kong head of government was appointed, the so-called “umbrella revolution” took place, in which protesters demanded more democratic rights. Mass protests and the largest demonstrations in Hong Kong since 1989 occurred in the summer of 2019 as part of the planned passage of a law to extradite Hong Kong citizens to mainland China.

In mid-August it became known that China was stationing units of the People’s Armed Police (counterinsurgency paramilitary unit) in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong. Nevertheless, 1.7 million Hong Kong citizens came together a short time later for a large demonstration. The extradition law was officially withdrawn by the Hong Kong government at the beginning of September, but since the protests are no longer directed against the law but against the restriction of civil liberties in general, the protests continued.

Specifically, the protesters made five demands, which aimed to decriminalize the protests. The fact that this set of demands was supported by a majority of the Hong Kong population was shown in the district elections on November 24, 2019, in which the supporters of the demands won 57% of the votes and thus a majority in 17 of 18 district assemblies (391 of 452) seats.

However, the Beijing government has shown no willingness to make any concessions beyond the withdrawal of the extradition law. Rather, a security law issued by the Beijing government for Hong Kong came into force at the end of June 2020, making “separatism, subversion, terrorism, collaboration with foreign powers” a criminal offense. The entry into force of the law had a serious impact on the Hong Kong democracy movement. Many democratic groups disbanded in July, including Joshua Wong’s Demosisto. Joshua Wong himself was sentenced to over a year in prison in November 2020.

National coat of arms of the People's Republic of China