The formal legal rules governing tortious behaviors in post-Mao China can be traced back to the General Principles of the Civil Law (hereinafter called the “General Principles”) promulgated in 1986. Since then, tort disputes have become one of the main types of cases litigated in courts. In 2007, the number of tort cases accepted by Chinese courts totaled about 863,000, and in 2008, this number rose further to 992,000 (Wang 2010, p. 2). Over the same period, a large number of changes have occurred in the law of torts. The transformation of the rules, however, has eluded previous introductory works on Chinese tort law written in English (e.g., Koziol and Zhu 2010). This chapter is devoted to delineating these changes, which present the growth of a liability system moving predominantly in favor of tort victims. Due to the limitations of space, I will focus mainly on the formal rules, with occasional reference to the positions taken by courts in practice. Moreover, my current work looks specifically to the alterations appearing in the law, but does not attempt to present an all-inclusive view of the Chinese tort law. For those who are interested in probing the Chinese tort law in a comparative perspective, this chapter will provide essential information about the mutation of law in a society undergoing economic transition. More generally, students of modern China may also find useful clues in this chapter for understanding the concerns embedded in China's formal institutions, as well as the interaction among different branches of government to address them.
Three Sources of Law
In China, at the national level, three categories of laws are applied in tort litigations: general statutes, special statutes, and judicial interpretations.
General statutes are comprehensive laws governing tortious behaviors, which set down the basic rules applicable to various types of torts. They are enacted either by the National People's Congress (NPC) or by its Standing Committee, and officially dubbed as “law” (falü), bearing the highest rank of effect in China's formal sources of law. So far, there are two general statutes on torts, the General Principles and the Tort Liability Law.