Besides streamlining existing laws, the new Civil Code also clarifies other major legal issues of public concern. On the relationship between the private and the State economy, the Civil Code clearly states that there is equal protection of the rights of the State, collectives, private persons, and other rights figures.
It is the first time the principle of equal protection has been written into national legislation, which experts believe reflects a strong political will coming from the top of the need to protect private property rights.
Regarding land rights for urban residents, the law explicitly stipulates that homeowners’ rights to the land under their residences will be automatically extended after the lease of the land expires, a guarantee that China’s new generation of property owners had been waiting for.
Under China’s law, all land designated as urban is owned by the State. Homeowners in China own their actual dwellings, but the land underneath is only leased to developers and homeowners, typically for 70 years.
As the leases of some of homes developed in the early years are about to expire, there was speculation that homeowners would be required to pay a hefty fee to extend the lease on their own home. The new Civil Code has provided peace of mind for millions of homeowners.
Regarding rural land rights, the new Civil Code clarifies that farmers have the right to transfer land use rights to other people. Under Chinese law, rural land is owned collectively by a rural community, which are then contracted to individual rural households, typically for 30 years.
Given the demographic changes in rural regions as many rural dwellers have moved to cities for work, China allowed farmers to trade land use rights without transferring the land ownership to promote agricultural development. Experts believe that the new Civil Code marks the official legal recognition of the separation of the ownership rights, contract rights and management rights, paving the way to free up the rural land market.
Other than land rights, the new Civil Code devotes a whole chapter to the issue of personality rights, sometimes known as the right of publicity, a move applauded by many legal experts as a major breakthrough.
The law outlines that people have the rights to their name, title, portrait, reputation and privacy. It also adds new articles on protecting personal information, including personal emails, travel history and biometric information.
Other major highlights of the Civil Code include the recognition of fetal rights, a 30-day cooling-off period after a couple files for divorce, and the separation of the rights of property occupation and ownership to protect the rights of renters, the elderly and vulnerable people. In the environmental sphere, it states that those causing suspected ecological destruction, in addition to environmental pollution, are liable to be sued.
According to Wang Liming, the Civil Code, which comes into effect on January 1, 2021, will be significant in responding to the rapid changes China has encountered in recent decades.