Breaching the Taboo? Constitutional Dimensions of the New Chinese Civil Code Asian Journal of Comparative Law"
Alec Stone Sweet, Chong Bu and Ding Zhuo
Asian Journal of Comparative Law
Published online: 25 May 2023
Abstract: Chinese elites have celebrated its new Civil Code (2021) as the most important statute in the nation's history, and the ‘cornerstone’ of its turn toward ‘rule of law’. The Code expressly binds all persons, as well as public officials, and is judicially enforceable. The statute enshrines rights to dignity, equality, personal liberty, property, and privacy, among others, and codifies duties to protect the environment and to evolve effective means to combat sexual harassment. Echoing the German Code, the statute also contains ‘general clauses’ that enable the courts to restrict enumerated rights and entitlements for reasons of ‘good morals’, ‘public order’, and the rights of others. While constituting an act of massive delegation to the courts, judges remain prohibited from directly enforcing the PRC's Constitution. The article explores the relationship between the Code and Constitution, through a comparative analysis of: (i) the process of ‘constitutionalising’ the private law around the globe; (ii) the scholarly discourse on the ‘horizontal effect’ of rights in China; (iii) the structure of the Code itself; and (iv) the development of ‘political’ control mechanisms, to be deployed by the Communist Party of China and organs of the state to constrain how judges use their interpretive powers.