Big news from the big meeting of the National People’s Congress in China


Karla Simon

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Karla Simon

Karla Simon

While there have been other recent developments that are relevant to this blog, they all pale in comparison with the one part of the Chinese government’s government restructuring plan that affects civil society. As part of this far-reaching plan, the highest level of the party-state has announced that the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) is to work with the State Council to implement new regulations for the registration of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs).

The general outline of the implementation of the policy is as follows:

1.     Two different types of organizations – trade associations and chambers of commerce – are to be permitted to register directly and engage in market competition.

2.     Other types of organizations will also be permitted to register directly: those engaged in training activities, commerce and technical activities, charitable activities and public benefit activities, and those involved in the provision of urban and rural services; they do not require any other inspection or authorizations.

3.     ‘Political, legal, and religious’ organizations do not come within the new regime. The former two are said to be ‘problematic’, while religious organizations have their own registration regime entirely.

4.     The entire system of registration and management is to be clarified and modernized.

There are several reasons for this, according to the plan – the principle established at the 18th Party Congress in the autumn was that there should be the widest participation of all persons and NPOs in managing national, social, economic and cultural affairs. Accordingly, government should be separated from the business of social organizations. The plan says that many social organizations ‘already conduct business without being registered, and their administrative structures are not suited to the needs of developing the scope of social organizations’. Click here for a write-up of the plan in English.

Impact of the new policy on development of new regulations

The ministry has clarified that the regulations will need to be re-drafted to ‘reflect this new high-level policy’. According to an unofficial statement, it is hoped that the State Council will adopt new regulations ‘before the end of the year’.

Charity law developments

While this has not been discussed publicly, it can also be assumed that the new policy will require that the proposed charity law either be revised (in order to reflect the new policy) or alternatively that it will be speeded up for consideration by the NPC. It is clear that without the filter of a sponsor unit to decide whether an organization is a ‘charity’, the law will require MCA to do so. The new policy clearly states that there is a distinction between public welfare organizations on the one hand, and charities on the other. The law will need to cope with this distinction and clarify the rules with respect to the latter, which must be applied by MCA. One of the serious procedural issues to be decided is how a charity is certified as such.

There was some discussion during the NPC meeting of the imposition of a ‘charity tax’, an issue that was raised by Zhou Sen, an honorary vice president of the China Charity Federation and a representative at the NPC. He claimed that this would be a necessary measure, but his posting on the Chinese version of Twitter was met with a firestorm of criticism. The proposal was disavowed by both the China Charity Federation (CCF) and the ministry, and the CCF publicly stated that Mr Zhou did not speak for it. Click here to read more.

Recent public statements suggest that there is much that still needs to be done to create more public trust in charity, and especially in the large GONGOs that suffered from so many scandals beginning in 2011. For example, the executive vice president of the Red Cross Society of China, Zhao Baige, admitted in an interview early this month that ‘public trust cannot be recovered in a short-run’. This suggests that the charity law will receive close attention. Whether it will be the panacea that some predict remains to be seen.

Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is Research Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law

Tagged in: China Civil society Legal developments regulation

Comments (9)


Thanks for your support, Mia. I hope the technical people fix it. Karla

George Fisher

So, you are learning Mandarin and are already able after a few lessons to translate announcements from the State Council? That is almost as remarkable as your statements that you have lived and worked in China for 18 years, while teaching the courses you speak of at a school in Washington, DC. I congratulate you for your ability to commute--and I marvel at your unwillingness to address my questions, arguing instead that "scholarly matters" are apparently too "subtle" to talk about with those who question your arguments, conclusions, and claims. So much for debate. Evidently, what you say is "the truth". Anyone who argues otherwise or questions you is not the expert you are. Your classes must be quite the one-person circus.


Dear Readers, Mr. Fisher appears to be interested only in prolonging a debate that deliberately fails to take into account important facts. There is no reason for me to continue it with a point by point because I can't argue scholarly matters, which are inherently subtle, in this space. But let me assure you that not only am I deeply knowledgable to about Chinese law and human rights, I happen to teach both courses, a fact that is readily knowable in cyberspace. As to Chinese sources, Mr. Fisher might check my previous blog, where I cite Xinhua (not an English source, but a Chinese one) for the text of the State Council plan. So, that's it from my end! My very best, Karla

George Fisher

You do not read Chinese language sources, if you are learning Chinese. You have someone read them for you. The Xinhua source you cite is in English, not Chinese. The claim that you understand the situation in China by living there "on and off" is remarkable. Others who may disagree who have actually resided there for many years, read the language, are trained in China Studies, and come to starkly different conclusions than yours are evidently mistaken in their analyses. Really? How can that be the case? Your statement that criticisms of your views "should not be hashed out on a blog" is equally striking. Why have a blog then? Apparently, only positive comments qualify as worthy of being posted. Finally, your dismissive attitude towards issues of human rights in China is revealing, especially as you quickly follow up such comments with an advertisement for your book. There you have it, indeed.


To my readers, Having read Mr. Fisher's comment before he had a chance to read my latest blog, which was posted up on April 26, I would like to respond to some of his remarks. First, as to whether there is a "civil society" in China, that is a matter of some scholarly debate in both China and the West. While China is of course authoritarian and dissidents are routinely jailed, there is no reason to argue that some civi space does not exist for CSOs. But again, that is a scholarly debate, and not one to be hashed out in comments on a blog. If Mr. Fisher is interested in it, I suggest he purchase my book and read more there. It is available from both OUP and Amazon. Second, as to the citation of English language sources, they are used because the readership of the blog is overwhelmingly not Chinese fluent. Whenever I cite Chinese sources I am also criticized, so I can't win. Third, and this really goes to the heart of the matter, yes, of course the "plan" announced by the NPC is only a plan. Writing legislation or regulations is a long and messy business in any country, not just China (look at health care reform in the US). But the government and party have been working on this for several years, and it looks as if it may finally come to fruition by the end of the year (Xinhua is the source for that, BTW, not an English language source). So, yes it is not yet a done deal. But my latest post attempts to flesh out some of the remaining issues to be addressed. (interestingly the Property Law took several years and 8 readings before it finally passed the NPC in 2007). Finally, as to my expertise, I have been living on and off in China, working on the legal framework for civil society organizations and teaching about it for about 18 years. I believe I do understand the situation lots better than most and am in constant touch with academics, practitioners, government officials, etc. And I do read Chinese language sources. No Mandarin is not my mother tongue and not even my second language. But like many who work in China and have teachers, that is the only way to learn the language. So there you have it! Karla Simon

George Fisher

Simon continues to claim that everything she reads in English that is meant to provide a positive spin on developments in China for foreigners is in some way indicative of Chinese government policy. But where are the Chinese sources? The article actually talks about a proposal, a discussion. There is no law passed, or confirmed regulation put not practice. Simon's misreading of China is breathtaking. It is also disturbing. Has Liu Xiaobo been released? Has Gao Zhisheng? Civil society? No, this is a professor who admits that she's "learning Mandarin", but somehow thinks she's an expert on a country whose language she cannot speak and whose process of policy making she clearly does not understand.

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