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I. Functioning of the National Legislature during an Emergency
The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) grants legislative powers to both the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its permanent body, the NPC Standing Committee. According to the Constitution, during full sessions, the NPC has the power to amend the Constitution and enact and amend basic laws, which includes laws governing criminal offenses, civil affairs, and state organs. The NPC Standing Committee is empowered to interpret the Constitution and other laws; enact and amend laws other than those that must be enacted by the NPC; and 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.
The NPC has nearly 3,000 deputies in total. Pursuant to the Constitution, the NPC full session meets only once a year, which is normally in March, for about ten days. An amendment to the Constitution must be adopted by a vote of more than two-thirds of all the NPC deputies, while any other bill requires only a majority vote to pass.
The NPC Standing Committee has much fewer members and meets more often. In total, there were 159 members elected to the current 13th NPC Standing Committee that started in 2018. According to the Standing Committee’s Rules of Procedure, it usually convenes once every other month. The Rules of Procedure require more than half of the members of the Committee to be present in order to hold any meetings. A bill is passed by a majority vote in the Standing Committee.
No provisions, however, have been located concerning the continuity of legislative activities during emergencies when members and staff are unable to travel and be present in the NPC or the Standing Committee meetings.
II. Measures Taken during the COVID-19 Pandemic
A. NPC Full Session Meeting Postponed
Amid the outbreak of COVID-19, on February 24, 2020, the sixteenth meeting of the 13th NPC Standing Committee announced that the third annual full session meeting of the 13th NPC, which was scheduled for March 5, 2020, was postponed and the new schedule would be decided later.
According to the Director of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, many NPC delegates are local government officials, scientific and research personnel, doctors and nurses, etc., who are fighting on the front lines of the pandemic. The decision to postpone the NPC annual meeting was made in order to prioritize the lives, safety, and health of the people. It was also consistent with the relevant legal provisions on emergency measures related to restricting gatherings during a major public health crisis, said the Director.
B. Videoconference of the NPC Standing Committee
Although meetings of the NPC Standing Committee have always been held in person, the above-mentioned sixteenth meeting of the 13th NPC Standing Committee was held with in-person participation of members who were in Beijing and videoconference participation of members who were outside of Beijing. It was the first time in the NPC’s history that a meeting was held through videoconferencing.
In addition to making the decision to postpone the NPC full session meeting, the Standing Committee also passed a legislative decision to immediately ban the trade and consumption of all terrestrial wildlife that grow and reproduce naturally in the wild. Such activities are suspected to be linked to the outbreak of COVID-19 in China.
Prepared by Laney Zhang
Foreign Law Specialist
 Id. art. 62.
 Id. art. 67.
 Election Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses (promulgated by the National People’s Congress (NPC) on July 1, 1979, last rev. Aug. 29, 2015) art. 15, https://perma.cc/6ZSB-B8BX (in Chinese).
 Constitution art. 61.
 Id. art. 64.
 Id. art. 4.
 Id. art. 32.
 Does the Gathering Ban During the Epidemic Affect the Exercise of Powers of the NPC Standing Committee? Tian Wei, Deputy Director of the NPC Standing Committee Constitution Office Acclaimed Innovative Approach, NPC website (Mar. 6, 2020), https://perma.cc/YS95-N4F3 (in Chinese).
Last Updated: 12/30/2020