SUN XIANZHONG: Legal reform starts with fixing the gap between law and practice

By / 04-02-2014 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

The recently concluded “liang hui”, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People's Congress (NPC), is the first round of “liang hui” since the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held last November. The Decision announced during the session outlines how China will comprehensively deepen reform. A crucial element in deepening reforms is building Chinese society based on the rule of law, which can in turn serve as a fundamental guarantee for China’s comprehensive reform. The blueprint provided in The Decision is therefore a new point of departure both for China’s reforms and building the Chinese rule of law.


The blueprint has been drawn, but how do we transform this drawing into reality? From my many years of legal research, the most fundamental steps are to conduct thorough research and proceed from reality, because any new legal system has to be set up on the basis of the existing system.


Using my own work as an example, I have been paying close attention to the development of the land ownership system in rural areas of China. Through investigations I conducted in many rural areas, I have tried to grasp how collective land ownership works. My research took me through the relatively affluent suburbs Shanghai, the labor-export-dependent economy of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, a typical agricultural county in Shanxi province and an energy resource-based region in Northern Shaanxi Province. From my observations and the data taken from these different areas, I have become familiar with the current problems in the legal design of China’s collective economic organization. In the course of my field investigations, I have truly come to appreciate just how vast China’s territory is, as well as how large the gap between legislation and current practice has become.


Take the issue of individual farmers as member-owners in a rural collective economic organization, for example. Currently, the law does not clearly grant individual farmers the enjoyment of such rights, but farmers are fully aware their need for legal recognition and assurance of their right to property ownership of property and are pushing strongly for them. In current practice, member-ownership in rural areas is running quite well, but it is completely different from what the law stipulates.


My investigations found that the gap between law and practice is the single biggest problem for collective economic organization and land ownership in China’s rural areas. Tracking--and solving—this problem needs to be our priority. In the long run, we need to normalize the incongruity between the legal and actual status of farmers.


In conclusion, the paramount task at hand is to know which in direction legal reform should advance, and how to move forward in our reforms. Only in this way, can we make big strides from our new point of departure.


Sun Xianzhong is deputy to National People's Congress (NPC) and a professor from the Institute of Law at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 568, March 7, 2014 

Translated by Bai Le

Revised by Charles Horne