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History of China’s notary system

Updated : 2015-06-03

1. Notary system in the 1930s:

On July 30, 1935, the Republic of China announced the Interim Rules for Notarization for the first time, then, on Feb 14, 1936, the Rules for the Implementation of Interim Rules for Notarization. Although the Rules specifically stated many cases for notarization and stated how to implement the Rules, they were not really implemented widely, mainly in the area under the capital court's jurisdiction.

On March 31, 1943, the Kuomintang government announced a notarization “law” and, on Dec 25 of that year, the Rules for the Implementation of the Notarization Law. This law contained 5 chapters and 67 articles and clearly described the notary department, a notary's qualifications, assistants’ qualifications, notary affairs (private rights), notarization application process, provisions for withdrawal, essential elements of notarized documents, notarizing documents, authentication of certificates, and notary fees. There were more detailed contents in the 9 chapters and 57 articles of the Rules for the Implementation of the Notarization Law.

However, during the war that followed, people at that time had no way to apply the Kuomintang law for their own benefit. Kuomintang notaries did help to establish and consolidate the property rights of landlords and the bourgeoisie, with the goal of maintaining the status of the ruling class. During the war of liberation, notary organizations gradually began appearing in people's courts in the cities of Harbin, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Shanghai and other liberated areas in response to the needs of the general public, especially aliens, overseas Chinese, and dependents of overseas Chinese. For example, there were notary certifications for marriages, divorces, adoption, contracts, and power of attorney, which played an important role in emancipating oppressed women, abolishing the feudal marital system, setting up freer, more equal marital relationships, establishing more close-knit families, protecting the interests of women and children, and safeguarding the property of individual citizens.

2. Period of development:

During the early days of the People's Republic of China, at the 12th meeting of the Central People Government, on Sept 3, 1951, there was an announcement of the Interim Regulations on the Organization of the People's Court for "notarization and other non-litigious matters governed by other laws and orders" under the jurisdiction of people's courts at the county, central, and municipal level.

At the same time, Beijing had Interim Measures of Notarization for the people's court and Measures of Central-south District Trial Implementation. After that, the notary organizations were gradually set up in mid-sized to large cities and some counties for the notary business and to protect personal property rights. When the People's Republic was established, during the period of economic restoration and the first 5-year plan, notarization’s main purpose was to serve economic construction so it was confined to sales, purchase orders, selling on a commission basis, handling contracts between State organs, State-owned enterprises, and privately owned industrial and commercial businesses.

In April 1955, Dong Biwu noted in a speech at a national Party meeting that "signing a contract is an act of agreement, and it needs laws to protect it. Our country must set up offices to notarize contracts so there will be fewer or no mistakes in them." He then added, "I hope there will be more notary offices to be set up, and the scope of their work extended." So, the Justice Ministry held the first national meeting on notary work, April 25 - May 9, 1955 to put the emphasis of notary work, clearly define the task of notaries, and discuss any existing problems in the work. Then on Jan 31, 1956, the Justice Ministry said in a Circular Concerning the Question of the Scope of Notaries that they "should strengthen the notary business and conduct it with people’s rights and obligations in mind". So, notaries were used to back official testaments, the adoption of children; the purchase, sale, or leasing of housing; the power of attorney; kinship relationships; and death and other certificates.

One stipulation called for notary offices to be set up in cities with more than 300,000 people, and a notary sections in the people's court of a county with a population of less than 300,000 people, or those with dependents of overseas Chinese. By the end of 1957, there were notary offices in 52 cities across the country, and a notary section in people's court of more 500 counties, with more than 900 full-time notaries in all. This was a prosperous time for the notary business, and it played an important role in developing the law.

3. Period of weakening:

Then, because of the influence of extremely radical thoughts in 1958, by 1959 judicial and administrative offices had been closed across the country, and notary licenses everywhere cancelled. Only the people's courts in a very few large cities engaged in the notary business and only for a small number of documents used outside China for international intercourse. And, for the 10 years of “cultural revolution” (1966-1976) turmoil, the notary business was regarded as a form of “revisionism", and the notarization of individual property the sign of increased bourgeois power and the beating of a gong to clear the way for capitalism.

And notarization involving foreign elements was seen as a convenient way to open the door to foreign countries, so that Chinese studying and working abroad dare not seek the notarization of something, and domestic dependents and relatives or friends of overseas Chinese dare not seek to notarize something as an agent for someone else for fear of being involved in a criminal undertaking.

4. Resumption of notary work:

After the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Party Congress was held in 1978, there were great changes in the country's international relations and international economic connections began increasing, leading to rapid growth in the notary business with a foreign effect. In January 1979 alone, according to provincial, autonomous region and municipality statistics, there were nearly 150,000 notary documents with foreign partners, or about 15 times the figure for 1977. The Justice Ministry announced its Circular Concerning the Gradual Resumption of Domestic Notary Business on Feb 15, 1980, which said, "The masses must be granted whatever is requested properly." Then it announced the Circular Concerning the Problem of the Setting and Management of Notary Offices on March 5, 1980, which said, "Notary offices must be set up in municipalities under the Central Government, municipalities and counties under the provincial government, and municipalities and counties where there are no notary offices, and notaries (or judges acting as notaries) set up in people's courts to conduct notary business."

There was also a national symposium on notary work Sept 19-25, 1980, to discuss the nature, tasks, principles and procedures of notaries, and clearer ways to restore, develop and perfect notaries to legalize, systematize and standardize China's notary work. The Interim Regulations on Notarization developed by the State Council, appeared on April 13, 1982 to give a systematic, complete description of the nature, tasks, principles, system, scope, organization, jurisdiction, and procedures of notarization. This was a major event for China's socialist legal system and a symbol of a new stage in its development. To complement the Interim Regulations, Justice Ministry announced the Measures Concerning the Trial Implementation of Several Main Notary Acts, on March 13, 1982, providing a legal basis and procedures of notarization for testaments, adoption of children, powers of attorney, and contracts.

Then, after several years of actual notarizations, and based on past experiences, the Ministry announced the trial application of the Notary Procedural Rules, on Dec 4, 1986, consisting of 12 chapters and 63 articles, amending the original Rules for Implementation, with four basic principles, special procedures, reconsideration procedures and other contents added. This was accompanied by support documents, such as the Formatting Notary Documents, Formatting Documents for Notary Offices, and Charging Standards and Measures for Control of Notary Fees to standardize notary work.

Now, for the past nearly 10 years, to practically apply the principles of equality, mutual benefit, fair negotiation, equal compensation, honesty and credibility, there have been notarizations of contracts on production, supply, and selling between different types of individuals, lessors and lessees, households, organizations, associations and township business conducted. And notary certification has improved morale and stabilized and improved the agricultural production system and enthusiasm for production among the vast numbers of farmers.

More recently, with more reforms and openness and for greater international communications, notarizations involving foreign agents have mainly focused on certification and the power of attorney, authorization, declarations, memorandum of agreement, guarantees, identification, labor insurance, business licenses, reciprocity, compensation, trademark rights, lotteries, and auctions. These notarizations have all promoted political and economic intercourse with other countries and China's credibility and reputation have been heightened, and the interests of the State, collectives and citizens better protected.

And with the development of the economy and greater soundness and perfection of the socialist legal system since the restoration of the notary system in the 1980s, more notaries have developed and their functions carried out proficiently. By the end of 1990, China had 1,921 notary offices and 15,786 notaries. In 1990, it saw 6,360,000 acts of notarization conducted, or more than 40 times the figure for 1980. These played an important role, as well they should, in the implementation of the reforms and opening-up policies, the maintaining of order in the economy, the protection of the rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and organizations, the lessening of disputes, the occurrence of illegal conduct, and the reduction of litigation.