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China's Path Toward the Rule of Law

The Promise and Pitfalls of Its Forthcoming Civil Code

Security officers prepare ahead of the closing session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 2017. Thomas Peter / REUTERS

Earlier this month, at the conclusion of the annual meeting of its National People’s Congress (NPC), China moved one step closer to instituting a unified civil code. The body formally approved the General Principles of the Civil Law, which are guidelines on how laws governing all aspects of civilian life, from marriage to real estate ownership to personal injury, should be drafted, with the ultimate aim of completing the code by 2020.

Outside observers might be surprised that China has been able to operate at this level of economic activity without a formal civil code. Although China started developing a sophisticated commercial legal infrastructure in the 1980s, however, its other legal systems are still being put in place. With a growing influx of cases related to everything from family law to intellectual property to trusts and estates, the Supreme People’s Court has made clear that it is high time

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