China’s first-ever civil code approved by parliament last week focuses on giving judges greater independence and curbing the influence of local officials, but the judiciary is still ultimately answerable to the Communist Party.
The new guidelines have narrowed the interpretation of “public interest” to prevent abusive land grabs.
It also makes it mandatory for local governments to make public announcements on “all acts taken by the state in relation to private property”, thus making land transactions more transparent.
But it does not stipulate any punishments for those illegally expropriating land or the rights of individual farmers to collective land, making it harder for families to seek compensation.
The wide-ranging legislative package will come into effect on January 1.
“For the first time, the civil code offers one whole (legal) system,” Liu Qiao, who specialises in Chinese and English civil law at the City University of Hong Kong, said.
“It forces courts and judges to be consistent with their interpretations, thus reducing room for political meddling.”
But Dong, who is also an activist, was concerned that the new provisions will be ignored during enforcement.
“The problem in China is that there is no supervision, and the judiciary doesn’t act in accordance with the law,” he said.
Local governments have taken away land from 100,000 to 500,000 farmers every year between 2005 to 2015 in violation of national land-use laws, according to a study by Qiao Shitong, a property and urban law professor at the University of Hong Kong.