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Summary

The National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China is the highest organ of state power under the Constitution.  The Constitution grants the NPC and its Standing Committee legislative power, decisional power, supervisory power, and power of appointment and removal.  The NPC convenes once a year, while the Standing Committee usually convenes once every other month.

Each plenary session of the NPC elects a Presidium for that session, which presides over the NPC plenary sessions and is deemed the “omnipotent center of power in the NPC.”  The NPC deputies are grouped into delegations based on the units that elect them.  The Law Committee deliberates on all bills submitted to the NPC and the NPC Standing Committee, and other Special Committees are also responsible for commenting on legislation in their specific policy areas.

In the NPC legislative process, the NPC Presidium and specified state actors may propose bills to an NPC session.  An individual deputy to the NPC cannot propose a bill in his or her own capacity.  In theory a delegation or a group of thirty or more deputies may introduce a bill; however, most of these measures do not make their way to the agenda of the NPC session.  A bill is passed by a majority vote in the NPC. 

In the Standing Committee legislative process, the Council of Chairmen and specified state actors may propose bills to the Standing Committee session.  Ten or more members of the Standing Committee may jointly propose a bill, but it is up to the Council of Chairmen whether or not to place it on the agenda of the Standing Committee session.  Bills are generally deliberated three times in the Standing Committee before being put to a vote.

After a bill is passed in the NPC or NPC Standing Committee, it is signed by the President of the State and promulgated by an Order of the President.

I.  Background

The National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) was officially established on September 15, 1954, when the first session of the first NPC was held.[1]  PRC’s first formal Constitution, namely the 1954 Constitution, was passed by the first NPC.[2]

Three NPCs convened before 1966, when the Great Cultural Revolution was launched.  During the following ten years, the NPC was effectively shut down.[3]   In 1975, just before the end of the Cultural Revolution, the NPC reconvened and managed to pass the 1975 Constitution.  In 1978 the NPC enacted a third Constitution, which was replaced by the current Constitution enacted by the fifth session of the fifth NPC in 1982.  The 1982 Constitution was amended by each NPC from the seventh to tenth, respectively, in 1988, 1993, 1999, and 2004.[4]

The period between the drafting of the 1982 Constitution and the enactment of the Law on Legislation in 2000 is deemed a reform era of the NPC.[5]  The NPC developed on the basis of the 1982 Constitution is a unique institution compared to other parliaments around the world, in terms of its constitutional status, the role of its Standing Committee, its large deputy body, its legislative processes, etc.

The NPC sessions have been held in the Great Hall of the People since the Hall was built in 1959.  The Hall is located on the west side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.[6]

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II.  Constitutional Status and Role

A.  Highest Organ of State Power

Article 57 of the Constitution declares that the NPC is the highest organ of state power.[7]  Such a status is “implied in the unitary constitutional structure, where the highest power is singularly lodged in the central (national) government and its laws and regulations enjoy unlimited supremacy.”[8]  Meanwhile, China’s unitary framework accommodates institutional compromises such as the regional autonomy of ethnic minorities and special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao.[9]

All power in the PRC belongs to the people, as stated the Constitution.[10]  The NPC and local people’s congresses (LPCs) are designed by the Constitution to have supreme authority so that the people may rule the country that belongs to them.[11]  According to the Constitution, the people exercise state power through the NPC and LPCs, which are constituted through democratic elections.  They are responsible to the people and subject to their supervision.  The 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.[12] 

Nevertheless, commentators state that, in practice, the NPC’s supreme status may have largely been reduced to endorsing decisions made by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whose leadership is also explicitly recognized by the Constitution.[13]

B.  Constitutional Powers of the NPC

The powers of the NPC are mainly set out in article 62 of the Constitution.  Its powers are generally categorized into four major types: legislative power, power to make decisions regarding major national political issues, supervisory power, and the power of appointment and removal.[14] 

1.  Legislative Power

According the Constitution, the NPC has the power to

  • amend the Constitution;[15] and
  • enact and amend basic laws, which includes laws governing criminal offenses, civil affairs, state organs, and “other basic laws.”[16]

2.  Decisional Power

The decisional power granted to the NPC by the Constitution includes the power to

  • examine and approve the plan for national economic and social development and the report on its implementation;[17]
  • examine and approve the state budget and the report on its implementation;[18]
  • alter or annul inappropriate decisions of the NPC Standing Committee;[19]
  • approve the establishment of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government;[20]
  • decide on the establishment of special administrative regions and the systems to be instituted there;[21] and
  • decide on questions of war and peace.22]

3.  Supervisory Power

Under the Constitution, the NPC supervises the enforcement of the Constitution.[23]  In addition, the State Council is responsible to and reports its work to the NPC.[24]  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) are responsible to the NPC and its Standing Committee.[25]  The NPC and the NPC Standing Committee can question the State Council and its ministries and commissions.[26]

4.  Power of Appointment and Removal

A unique characteristic of the Chinese NPC is that it not only elects top-ranking state officials, but also elects key officials of the judicial branch.[27]  According to the Constitution, the NPC can

  • elect the President and the Vice-President of the State;[28]
  • decide on the choice of the Premier of the State Council upon nomination by the President, and on the choice of the Vice-Premiers, State Councilors, Ministers in charge of ministries or commissions, Auditor-General, and Secretary-General of the State Council upon nomination by the Premier;[29]
  • elect the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and, upon nomination by the Chairman, decide on the choice of all other members of the CMC;[30]
  • elect the President of the SPC;[31]
  • elect the Procurator-General of the SPP;[32] and
  • remove from office the above personnel.[33]

In addition, the Constitution supplements the powers granted to the NPC with an open-ended authorization that gives the NPC the authority to exercise “other functions and powers as the highest organ of state power should exercise.”[34]

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III.  Structure and Composition

China’s NPC is unicameral, with laws only needing to pass one chamber to take effect.  The NPC Standing Committee is sometimes seen as, in essence, a “second chamber” enjoying independent legislative authority, but not in the same sense as in bicameralism, which usually requires a bill to receive a majority vote in both chambers in order to become law.[35] 

The current twelfth NPC has 2,987 deputies in total.[36]   According to the Election Law of the NPC and LPCs, the total number of deputies of the NPC shall not exceed three thousand.[37] 

Pursuant to the Constitution, the NPC meets only once a year.[38]  It normally meets in March for about ten days.  Although the Constitution provides that the NPC may hold interim sessions whenever the Standing Committee deems it necessary, in practice no such session has ever taken place.[39] 

A.  NPC Standing Committee

The permanent body of the NPC, the NPC Standing Committee, usually convenes once every other month.[40]  The current twelfth NPC Standing Committee has 161 members.[41]  It is a unique characteristic of the Chinese NPC system that the Standing Committee is granted independent legislative power by the Constitution, as well other powers of the state, some of which are even not ordinarily available to the NPC.[42] 

1.  Constitutional Powers of the NPC Standing Committee

According to the Constitution, the NPC Standing Committee can

  • interpret the Constitution;[43]
  • enact and amend laws other than those that must be enacted by the NPC;[44]
  • partially supplement and amend laws enacted by the NPC when the NPC is not in session, as long as “the basic principles of these laws are not contravened;”[45] and
  • interpret laws.[46]

In addition to the legislative power, numerous other state powers are also specifically granted to the NPC Standing Committee by the Constitution, including decisional power, supervisory power, and the power of appointment and removal.[47]  Under the category of supervisory power, for example, the Standing Committee can

  • supervise enforcement of the Constitution;[48] 
  • annul administrative regulations, decisions, or orders of the State Council that contravene the Constitution or other laws;[49] and
  • annul local regulations or decisions of the organs of state power of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government that contravene the Constitution, other laws, or administrative regulations.[50]

2.  Leadership Roles

The NPC Standing Committee is composed of the Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Secretary-General, and other members.[51]  The Chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC directs the work of the Standing Committee and convenes its sessions.  The Vice-Chairmen and the Secretary-General assist with the Chairman’s work.[52]  The current twelfth NPC Standing Committee has a total of thirteen Vice-Chairmen.[53]

The Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, and Secretary-General constitute the Council of Chairmen, which handles important day-to-day work of the NPC Standing Committee.[54]  According to the NPC Organic Law, the Council of Chairmen can

  • decide on the time for each session of the Standing Committee and draft the agenda of the session;
  • decide whether the bills, proposals, and questions submitted to the Standing Committee should be referred to the relevant Special Committees or submitted to the plenary session of the Standing Committee for deliberation;
  • direct and coordinate the daily work of the Special Committees; and
  • carry out other important daily work of the Standing Committee.[55]

3.  Administrative Bodies

The daily work of the NPC Standing Committee is supported by a number of administrative bodies, including the General Office, the Legislative Affairs Commission, the Budgetary Affairs Commission, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Basic Law Committee, and the Macao Special Administrative Region Basic Law Committee.[56]   Being composed of professional staff, most of whom are neither Standing Committee members nor NPC deputies, the Legislative Affairs Commission is in charge of daily lawmaking and review activities.[57]

B.  Presidium

Each plenary session of the NPC begins with a preparatory meeting, in which a Presidium and a Secretary-General for that session are elected.[58]  The Presidium presides over the NPC sessions.[59]

The Presidium is deemed the “omnipotent center of power in the NPC,”[60] and is sometimes viewed as a platform through which the CCP controls the NPC, particularly given that it is composed of leading Party and state leaders.[61]  A Presidium is typically composed of: (1) major leaders of the CCP and the state; (2) members of the CMC; (3) chairs of the “democratic parties;” (4) persons in charge of central party, state, and military organs; (5) persons in charge of officially recognized “people’s organizations;” and (6) heads of the delegations.[62] 

C.  Delegations

The NPC deputies are grouped into delegations based on the units that elect them.[63]  Each delegation elects a head and deputy heads.  Before each session of the NPC is convened, the delegations discuss matters concerning preparations for the session put forward by the NPC Standing Committee.  During the session, the delegations “deliberate on the bills and proposals submitted to the Congress,” and the delegation heads or representatives may express opinions on the bills and proposals at either the Presidium meetings or the plenary meetings of the session.[64] 

D.  Special Committees

The NPC establishes special committees that are subject to the leadership of the NPC, and to the NPC Standing Committee when the NPC is not in session.[65]  The committees are composed of deputies who specialize in the committee’s policy area.[66]  The Law Committee deliberates on all bills submitted to the NPC and the NPC Standing Committee, and other special committees are also responsible for commenting on legislation in their specific policy areas.[67]

Currently, there are a total of nine special committees in the NPC: the Nationalities Committee; the Law Committee; the Judicial Committee of Internal Affairs; the Finance and Economic Committee;  the Education, Science, Culture, and Public Health Committee; the Foreign Affairs Committee; the Overseas Chinese Committee; the Environmental and Resource Protection Committee; and the Agricultural and Rural Committee.[68] 

The special committees are usually headed by a Vice-Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, and the Standing Committee members constitute the majority on the special committees.[69]

E.  Political Parties

In addition to the ruling CCP, in China there are officially eight “democratic parties” supporting the CCP, each having members seated in the NPC and the NPC Standing Committee.  In the NPC and the NPC Standing Committee, however, members of the democratic parties are not organized and do not act in the name of their parties. 

The democratic parties are as follows:

  • Revolutionary Committee of the China Kuomingtang
  • China Democratic League
  • China Democratic National Construction Association
  • China Association for Promoting Democracy
  • Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party
  • China Zhi Gong Dang of China
  • Jiusan Society
  • Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League[70]

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IV.  Elections

The NPC and the NPC Standing Committee are elected for a term of five years.[71]  The Standing Committee is obligated to complete the election of deputies of the succeeding NPC two months prior to the expiration of the term of office of the current NPC.[72]  The term of the current twelfth NPC is from March 2013 to March 2018.[73] 

Ordinary deputies may run for consecutive terms,[74] while the Chairman and Vice-Chairmen of the Standing Committee may serve no more than two consecutive terms.[75] 

According to the Constitution, deputies of the NPC are elected from the provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, special administrative regions, and armed forces.[76]  Specifically, deputies of the NPC are elected by deputies of the provincial congresses, which in turn are elected by city- or county-level deputies.[77]  Deputies to the people’s congresses of cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, counties, autonomous counties, townships, nationality townships, and towns are directly elected.[78]

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V.  Legislative Process

A.  Legislative Process in the NPC

1.  Proposing Bills

The NPC Presidium may initiate the legislative process by proposing bills to the NPC.[79]  Many state actors are also authorized to propose bills, which are to be placed on the agenda of the NPC session by the Presidium.  The state actors include the NPC Standing Committee, State Council, CMC, SPC, SPP, and the NPC Special Committees.[80]

An individual deputy to the NPC cannot propose a bill in his or her own capacity.  Although in theory a delegation or a group of thirty or more deputies may introduce a bill, it is up to the Presidium whether or not to place the bill on the agenda of the NPC session.  The Presidium may refer such a bill to the relevant special committee for deliberation and comments.[81]  Most bills proposed by ordinary deputies do not pass the special committee deliberation in order to make their way to the agenda.[82]

2.  Deliberation

The NPC plenary session hears the statements of the bill sponsor of a proposed bill that has been placed on the agenda of the current NPC session.[83]  The delegations then deliberate on the bill.[84]  The bill is also subject to deliberation by the relevant special committee.[85]  Based on the deliberated opinions of the delegations and the special committee, the Law Committee considers the bill and submits to the Presidium a report on the result of its deliberations containing different opinions and a revised draft law.[86]

3.  Voting

After a revised draft law has been considered by the delegations, the Law Committee further revises the draft according to the deliberated opinions of the delegations and prepares a draft for vote.   The Presidium then submits the draft to the plenary session for a vote.  A bill passes by a majority vote in the NPC.[87]

4.  Promulgation

After a law is passed in the NPC, it is signed by the President of the State and promulgated by an Order of the President.[88]  The President does not have a veto or discretion in signing once the law has been passed by the NPC.[89]

B.  Legislative Process in the NPC Standing Committee

1.  Proposing Bills

The Council of Chairmen may propose bills to a meeting of the Standing Committee for deliberation.  State actors, including the State Council, CMC, SPC, SPP, and special committees of the NPC, may also propose bills, which are to be placed on the agenda of the current Standing Committee session by the Council of Chairmen.  The Council of Chairmen may also forward a bill to the relevant special committee for deliberation and comments before placing it on the agenda.[90] 

Ten or more members of the Standing Committee may jointly propose a bill, but it is up to the Council of Chairmen whether or not to place it on the agenda of the current Standing Committee session, with or without forwarding it to a special committee for deliberation and comments.[91]  The Council of Chairmen is required by law either to report to the Standing Committee or to explain to the sponsor why it has decided not to place the bill on the agenda.[92]

2.  Deliberation

Any proposed bill placed on the agenda of the Standing Committee session is generally deliberated three times in the Standing Committee before being put to a vote.[93]  Bills for which “various parties concerned have formed a preponderant consensus” may be put to a vote after deliberations at two Standing Committee sessions, and may be put to vote even after only one deliberation if the bill only seeks to regulate very specific matters or has only been partially revised.[94]

In the first deliberation, the statements of the bill sponsor are heard by the plenary session, and then the bill is preliminarily deliberated on in group meetings.  In the second deliberation, the report of the Law Committee on the revision of the bill is heard by the plenary session before the bill is further deliberated on in group meetings.  In the third deliberation, the report of the Law Committee on the result of deliberation of the bill is heard by the plenary session, and then the revised draft law is deliberated on in group meetings.[95] 

The Law Committee is obligated to deliberate on the bill based on the deliberation opinions of the members of the Standing Committee and other relevant actors, issue a summary report on revisions or a deliberation conclusion report containing different opinions, and prepare the revised draft law.[96]

3.  Publishing a Draft Law for Public Comment

According to a provision newly added to the Law on Legislation in March 2015, for all bills on the agenda of Standing Committee sessions, the draft law and explanation on its drafting and revision must be published for public comment, unless the Council of Chairmen decides otherwise.[97]

4.  Voting

After the revised draft of a law has been deliberated by the Standing Committee session, the Law Committee further revises it on the basis of the deliberated opinions of the members of the Standing Committee and prepares the draft for a vote.  A bill is passed by a majority vote in the Standing Committee.[98]

5.  Promulgation

After a bill is passed in the NPC Standing Committee, it is signed by the President of the State and promulgated by an Order of the President.[99] 

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Prepared by Laney Zhang
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
January 2016


[1] About Congress: Introduction of the System of People’s Congress, The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (Dec. 7, 2015),http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/about/2007-11/20/content_ 1373250.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/US2D-4XJL.

[2] Zhang Qianfan, The Constitution of China: A Contextual Analysis 44 (2012).

[3] Jiang Jinsong, The National People’s Congress of China 60–61 (2003).

[4] Zhang, supra note 2, at 46–47; Xianfa [Constitution] art. 57 (1982), 2004 Fagui Huibian 4–28.

[5] Jiang, supra note 3, at 76.

[6] Renmin Dahuitang Jiancheng [Construction of the Great Hall of the People], Dangshi Bai Ke, http://dangshi. people.com.cn/GB/165617/166495/168115/10002879.html (last visited Dec. 14, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/9XNF-HMDS.

[7] Constitution art. 57.

[8] Zhang, supra note 2, at 124.

[9] Id. at 108–15.

[10] Constitution art. 2.

[11] Zhang, supra note 2, at 121.

[12] Constitution arts. 2 & 3.

[13] Zhang, supra note 2, at 122; Constitution pmbl.

[14] Id.; Zhang, supra note 2, at 127–29.

[15] Constitution art. 62, § 1.

[16] Id. art. 62, § 3.

[17] Id. art. 62, § 9.

[18] Id. art. 62, § 10.

[19] Id. art. 62, § 11.

[20] Id. art. 62, § 12.

[21] Id. art. 62, § 13.

[22] Id. art. 62, § 14.

[23] Id. art. 62, § 2.

[24] Id. art. 92.

[25] Id. arts. 128 & 133.

[26] Id. art. 73.

[27] Zhang, supra note 2, at 127.

[28] Constitution art. 62, § 4.

[29] Id. art. 62, § 5.

[30] Id. art. 62, § 6.

[31] Id. art. 62, § 7.

[32] Id. art. 62, § 8.

[33] Id. art. 63.

[34] Id. art. 62, § 15.

[35] Zhang, supra note 2, at 53, 132.

[36] Lijie Quanguo Renda Lici Huiyi [Sessions of NPCs], Xinhuanet, http://news.xinhuanet.com/ziliao/2003-01/18/content_695280.htm (last visited Dec. 14, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/T489-PWFZ.

[37] Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui he Difang Geji Renmin Daibiao Dahui Xuanju Fa [Election Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses] (promulgated by the NPC, July 1, 1979, last rev. Aug. 29, 2015) art. 15, http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/2015-08/30/content_2922358.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/39LM-9NCE (Election Law).

[38] Constitution art. 61. 

[39] Zhang, supra note 2, at 125.

[40] Election Law art. 29.

[41] Shi’er Jie Quanguo Renda Changweihui Weiyuan Mingdan (161 Ren) [Name List of the 12th NPC Standing Committee (161 Members)], Xinhuanet (Mar. 14, 2013), available at http://news.ifeng.com/mainland/ special/2013lianghui/detail_2013_03/14/23114200_0.shtml, archived at https://perma.cc/N2EZ-MCJ5.

[42] Zhang, supra note 2, at 135.

[43] Constitution art. 67, § 1.

[44] Id. art. 67, § 2.

[45] Id. art. 67, § 3.

[46] Id. art. 67, § 4.

[47] Jiang, supra note 3, at 150.

[48] Constitution art. 67, § 1.

[49] Id. art. 67, § 7.

[50] Id. art. 67, § 8.

[51] Id. art. 65.

[52] Id. art. 68.

[53] Di Shi’er Jie Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui Changwu Weiyuanhui [Standing Committee of the Twelfth NPC], The Central People’s Government of The People’s Republic of China (Mar. 14, 2013), http://www.gov.cn/ test/2013-03/14/content_2353702.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/WLE4-2WG5.

[54] Id.

[55] Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui Zuzhi Fa [NPC Organic Law] (Organic Law) (promulgated by the NPC, Dec. 20, 1982) art. 25, 1982 Fagui Huibian 68–79.

[56] Renda Jigou [Organs of the NPC], http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/rdjg/node_507.htm (last visited Dec. 14, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/QY7Z-KDCF.  

[57] Zhang, supra note 2, at 138.

[58] Organic Law art. 5.

[59] Id. art. 6.

[60] Jiang, supra note 3, at 159.

[61] Zhang, supra note 2, at 126.

[62] Id.

[63] Organic Law art. 4.

[64] Id.

[65] Id. art. 35.

[66] Zhang, supra note 2, at 126. 

[67] Organic Law art. 37.

[68] Renda Jigou, supra note 56.

[69] Zhang, supra note 2, at 126–27.

[70] Jiang, supra note 3, at 308–31.

[71] Constitution art. 60.

[72] Id.

[73] Lijie Quanguo Renda Lici Huiyi, supra note 36.

[74] Zhang, supra note 2, at 125.

[75] Constitution art. 66.

[76] Id. art. 59.

[77] Election Law art. 2.

[78] Id.

[79] Li Fa Fa [Law on Legislation] (promulgated by National People’s Congress (NPC), Mar. 15, 2000, rev. Mar. 15, 2015) art. 14, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2015lh/2015-03/18/c_1114682142.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/XME7-UCVT.

[80] Law on Legislation art. 14.

[81] Id. art. 15.

[82] Zhang, supra note 2, at 130.

[83] Law on Legislation art. 18.

[84] Id.

[85] Id. art. 19.

[86] Id. art. 20.

[87] Id. art. 24.

[88] Id.

[89] Zhang, supra note 2, at 130.

[90] Law on Legislation art. 26.

[91] Id. art. 27.

[92] Id.

[93] Id. art. 29.

[94] Id. art. 30.

[95] Id. art. 29.

[96] Id. art. 33.

[97] Id. art. 37.

[98] Id. art. 41.

[99] Id. art. 44.

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Last Updated: 02/12/2016