Image source: Xinhua News Agency
After a two-month delay caused by COVID-19, China’s “Two Sessions,” the country’s largest political event of the year, is finally taking place. Starting on May 21, thousands of delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s top legislature, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body, will be attending a series of meetings, giving feedback to a variety of government initiatives, and submitting their own proposals for discussion.
Many of the proposals, especially from the CPPCC whose members include movie stars and tech billionaires, are inspired by social topics that have made the news and receive strong reactions from the public. Here are the top five proposals that have sparked the most discussion on the Chinese internet this year:
1. Legalizing egg freezing for single women
Last December, Teresa Xu 徐枣枣, a 31-year-old single woman with a history of women’s rights activism, made international headlines when suing a Beijing hospital for refusing to provide egg-freezing services to her because of her marital status. While her lawsuit is still pending and legal experts are not optimistic about its outcome, the case has inspired challenges to China’s family-planning laws, which stipulate that only infertile married couples are eligible for assisted reproduction technologies, such as using sperm banks and freezing one’s eggs.
The groundbreaking case, as well as the broader question of Chinese single women’s reproductive rights, is the focus of a proposal created by Péng Jìng 彭静, a CPPCC delegate and a law firm partner in Chongqing. After reading news about Xu’s lawsuit, Peng said she felt the urge to write a proposal, calling on legislators to recognize single women freezing their eggs as a legal right . “First and foremost, the current regulations are against China’s constitutional principle of gender equality,” Xu explained (in Chinese) in an interview. “Moreover, because more and more women are choosing to put off childbirth because of their careers, it’s a basic need for them to have egg freezing as a backup plan.”
2. Improving laws to protect animals from cruelty and abuse
A few delegates, including Zhào Wǎnpíng 赵皖平 and Gāo Zǐchéng 高子程, have taken issue (in Chinese) with the absence of specifics in laws banning cruelty to pet animals in China.
In the past year, there have been a great number of discussions on the Chinese internet concerning the topics of animal welfare and protection, but the conversation reached a fever pitch recently when a university student in Shandong was caught torturing and murdering cats and showed no remorse after being exposed.
3. Abandoning cool-off periods for divorces
In 2019, in a bid to reduce the country’s soaring divorce rate, China introduced a new clause in a draft of its revised civil code, which stipulated that all divorce-seeking couples need to go through a 30-day “cool-off” period before making a final decision. Since then, the proposed clause has been facing a fierce backlash from critics who argued that delaying divorce would achieve nothing other than putting victims of domestic violence at greater danger and causing more resentment for couples trapped in an unhappy marriage.
In response to the widespread criticism, China’s top national legislature announced last week that while the “cool-off” periods would remain compulsory for divorces with mutual consent, they would no longer be applied to cases going to court.
But NPC delegate Jiǎng Shèngnán 蒋胜男 thinks this is not enough. In her proposal, she suggested a complete removal of the clause from the civil code. “The ‘cool-off’ periods are forcing the vast majority of divorce-seeking couples to sacrifice their convenience due to some marital problems of a small cluster of people,” she said.
4. Building a database of people who commit sexual offenses against minors
In light of a string of horrifying stories about sexual offenses against minors, NPC delegate Liú Xīyà 刘希娅, a principal of a primary school in Chongqing, urged China’s law enforcement authorities to establish a sex-offender registry and make it accessible to everyone. According to her (in Chinese), the database could keep registered sex offenders who have committted crimes against minors from seeking new jobs in the education sector, and thus prevent them from preying on minors.
CPPCC delegate Huáng Qǐ 黄绮, a professor at Shanghai International Studies University has also called for (in Chinese) a “legal red line” at schools to not hire those who have criminal records of sexually assaulting minors.
5. Banning communal eating
China’s centuries-old communal eating culture has come under scrutiny in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Since the outbreak emerged, local governments across the country have launched aggressive initiatives to convince diners to use designated “serving utensils” and encourage “the serving of separate portions rather than ‘family style,’” as the Guardian reported.
Now, Hé Xuébīn 何学斌, an NPC delegate and a famous traditional Chinese painter, is hoping to make this temporary solution designed to stem the pandemic a new norm that Chinese people have to live with. In an interview with the Beijing News (in Chinese), He said that his proposal, which was expected to ban communal eating in public, would prevent future contagious diseases from spreading as quickly as COVID-19, as well as reduce food waste. “It’s hard to achieve a dining table revolution because communal eating is a tradition deeply seated in our food culture. Therefore, there have to be efforts made on the legal front to force people to change,” he said.