PRC's 1980 Nationality Law

A single nationality multiethnic state

By William Wetherall

First posted 15 February 2007
Last updated 1 January 2008



Related articles

The following articles also examine nationality and ethnic status in ROC and PRC today.

The Republic of China as a state: The vicissitudes of recognition politics

Race in ROC's constitutions: China's rise and fall as an ethnic nation

ROC's 13 ethnic nations: Taiwanizing Sinified-Japanized aborigines

ROC's 2000 Nationality Law: Membership in a stateless nation

ROC's 2001 Aborigine Status Act: The legal embrace of indigenous Taiwanese

Race in PRC's constitutions: Principles of ethnic equality and autonomy

PRC's 56 ethnic subnations: The racialist revolution against racism

"Chinese" not a race or ethnicity

The 1980 Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China is a simple and straightforward list of criteria for acquiring, losing, renouncing, and restoring Chinese nationality. Like most nationality laws in the world, it is primarily jus sanguinis or "right-of-blood" (ŒŒ“Žå‹` C. xuètŏng zhŭyì, J. kettō shugi) and secondarily jus soli or "right-of-soil" (i.e., place-of-birth, C. o¶’nŽå‹` chūshēngdì zhŭyì, J. ¶’nŽå‹` seichi shugi).

While "right-of-blood" has commonly been taken to mean "racial" or "ethnic" descent -- and while at times different Chinese governments have viewed being "Chinese" as a matter of racioethnic affiliation -- it means only "parental lineage" as a legal term today. Birth to a Chinese mother or father, regardless of the Chinese parent's race or ethnicity, is the primary qualification for acquiring Chinese nationality at time of birth.

From "Chinese race" to "Chinese citizens"

The term ’†‰Ø–¯‘° (zhōnghuá mínzú) began to be used during the first decade of the 20th century to denote the peoples of Qing China as a racioethnic "nation" in the contemporary sense of "race" or "folk" or "volk". As China evolved from an imperial entity composed of several racioethnic groups, to a state nominally committed to principles of racioethnic (national) equality, the "Chinese race" had to be civilized as "Chinese citizens" (’†š Œö–¯ zhōngguó gōngmín).

The name of the Republic of China, founded in 1911, is ’†‰Ø–¯š , which is meant to be parsed –¯š  (republic) of ’†‰Ø (China). While Sun Yat-sen imbued –¯ with racioethnic nuances, he does not appear to have intended that ROC's name be read to mean š  (country) of the ’†‰Ø–¯‘° (the Chinese race).

The name of the People's Republic of China, founded in 1949, is ’†‰Øl–¯‹¤˜aš , or ‹¤˜aš  (republic) of the l–¯ (people) of ’†‰Ø (China). The l–¯ (rénmín) in the name of PRC is the term most widely used to denote "the people" of a country or "the peoples" of two or more countries in laws and treaties that refer to nationals of a state as people who possess the state's nationality.

ROC racioethnic minorities

ROC attempted to nationalize China's diverse population as the singular nation by speaking of the Chinese people as consisting of five racioethnic nations, but did little to protect minority entities from Han assimilation. In 1945, when receiving Taiwan from Japan, ROC took over Japan's system of governing the islands indigenous people, which had formally begun in 1895 but had in some ways started during Japan's punitive military expedition to the island in 1874.

After the ROC government took refuge on Taiwan in 1949, the island's racioethnic issues were no longer remote. The Han Chinese who dominated the mainland refugees may have controlled the island militarily and politically, but they were linguistic, cultural, and otherwise ethnic minorities. Today, the ROC government is no longer a haven of Han domination. If anything it has become a voice for Taiwanese pride.

Japan divided "the savages in Formosa" into nine tribes (Government of Formosa, Report on the Control of the Aborigines in Formosa, Taihoku (Formosa): Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs, 1911). ROC now recognizes 11 major indigenous groups on the island.

See also ROC Aborigine Status Act.


The People's Republic of China (PRC) recognizes 56 –¯‘° and has a 57th classification for people affiliated with unclassified races. One of PRC's minority nationalities " ROC

See 2000 ROC Nationality Law for comparison with nationality standards in the Republic of China.

1980 PRC Nationality Law
With commentary on terminology

Chinese text

The Chinese text was cut and pasted from a copy of the law posted on the website of the Immigration Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, where it is posted in both simplified and traditional character versions, and in an English version.

Though PRC publishes its laws in GB simplified characters, Hong Kong and Macao also publish them in Big5 traditional character editions. Fortunately most traditional characters are included in the Shift-JIS Japanese coding used on this website. For the few traditional characters that cannot be directly displayed, I have shown the equivalent Japanese character or a description of the traditional character in square brackets. My apologies to readers of Chinese.

English translation

The English translation has also been cut and pasted from the HK Immigration Department website.

The quality of the translation is high. However, a number of different Chinese terms are conflated into "nation" metaphors in English, thus losing their distinctions.


Some terms have been highlighted in color to facilitate glosses or commentary.

š Ð–@
Nationality Law of the
People's Republic of China
ˆê‹ã”ª—ë”N‹ãŒŽ\“ú‘æŒÜ›œ‘Sš l–¯‘ã•\‘å˜ð‘æŽOŽŸ˜ð‹c’ʉ߈ê‹ã”ª—ë”N‹ãŒŽ\“ú‘Sš l–¯‘ã•\‘å˜ðí–±ˆÏˆõ˜ðˆÏˆõ’·—ߑ攪åjŒö•zŽ©Œö•z”V“ú‹NŽ{s Adopted at the Third Session of the Fifth National People's Congress, promulgated by Order No. 8 of the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and effective as of September 10, 1980
’†‰Øl–¯‹¤˜aš š Ð“IŽæ“¾A‘rŽ¸˜a‰ø•œC“s“K—p–{–@B
Article 1
This law is applicable to the acquisition, loss and restoration of nationality of the People's Republic of China.
’†‰Øl–¯‹¤˜aš ¥“ˆê“I‘½–¯‘°“Iš ‰ÆCŠe–¯‘°“Il“s‹ï—L’†š š ÐB
Article 2
The People's Republic of China is a unitary multinational ( > multiethnic) state; persons belonging to any of the nationalities ( > ethnic groups) in China shall have Chinese nationality.

nationality / racioethnicity

Though ‘½–¯‘° (duŏmínzú) and Še–¯‘° (gèmínzú) allude to varieties of racioethnic status within PRC's š Ð (guójí) or "nationality", they are translated as "multinational" and "any of the nationalities" -- thus confusing them with "nationality" as a non-racioethnic status in both domestic and international law. Such conflation of Chinese distinctions into English "nation" is a problem in many such translations.

’†‰Øl–¯‹¤˜aš •s³”F’†š Œö–¯‹ï—L™Ôdš ÐB
Article 3
The People's Republic of China does not recognize dual nationality for any Chinese national ( > citizen).

national / citizen

Œö–¯ (gōngmín), though generally used to translate "citizen" in the narrow and somewhat Americanized sense of someone who possesses a state's nationality (š Ð guójí), is here translated "national" -- which conflates yet another distinction into English "nation".

Note that Œö–¯ (citizen, national) is not defined, but suddenly appears as a synonym for someone who possesses Chinese nationality (’†š š Ð zhōngguó guójí).

In Japanese law, a person who possesses Japanese nationality is referred to as a ‘–¯ (kokumin, national), which is sometimes translated "citizen" but should be rendered "national" since one is a "kokumin" by virtue of possessing "nationality" and not "citizenship" -- rights and duties of which are determined, as in all states, by many other considerations.

•ƒ•ê™Ô•ûˆ½ˆê•ûˆ×’†š Œö–¯C–{lo¶Ý’†š C‹ï—L’†š š ÐB
Article 4
Any person born in China whose parents are both Chinese nationals ( > citizens) or one of whose parents is a Chinese national ( > citizen) shall have Chinese nationality.
•ƒ•ê™Ô•ûˆ½ˆê•ûˆ×’†š Œö–¯C–{lo¶ÝŠOš C‹ï—L’†š š ÐG’A•ƒ•ê™Ô•ûˆ½ˆê•ûˆ×’†š Œö–¯•À’苏ÝŠOš C–{lo¶Žž‘¦‹ï—LŠOš š Ð“IC•s‹ï—L’†š š ÐB
Article 5
Any person born abroad whose parents are both Chinese nationals or one of whose parents is a Chinese national shall have Chinese nationality. But a person whose parents are both Chinese nationals and have both settled abroad, or one of whose parents is a Chinese national and has settled abroad, and who has acquired foreign nationality at birth shall not have Chinese nationality.
•ƒ•ê–³š Ðˆ½š Ð•s–¾C’苏Ý’†š C–{lo¶Ý’†š C‹ï—L’†š š ÐB
Article 6
Any person born in China whose parents are stateless or of uncertain nationality and have settled in China shall have Chinese nationality.
ŠOš lˆ½–³š ÐlCŠèˆÓ…Žç’†š Œ›–@˜a–@—¥C•À‹ï—L‰º—ñžŠŒ”Vˆê“IC‰ÂˆÈãS\¿”áy‰Á“ü’†š š ÐF

  ˆêA’†š l“I‹ße›¢G
  “ñA’苏Ý’†š “IG
Article 7
Foreign nationals or stateless persons who are willing to abide by China's Constitution and laws and who meet one of the following conditions may be naturalized upon approval of their applications:

  1. they are near relatives of Chinese nationals;
  2. they have settled in China; or
  3. they have other legitimate reasons.


The term consistently used in PRC law today for "naturalization" is ‰Á“ü’†š š Ð (jiārù zhōngguó guójí) -- literally entry into China's national register -- admission to China's nationality [people affiliated with PRC's sovereign nation, constituting PRC's demographic territory].

The expression reduces to simply “üÐ (rùjí) meaning "enter register". \¿“üÐ“Il” means "number of people applying for naturalization".

Œö–¯“üÐ (gōngmín rùjí) means "naturalize" in the sense of "obtain citizenship". Hence ”üš Œö–¯“üÐ means "American citizenship" and ‰Á\‘åŒö–¯“üÐlŽŽ means "Canadian citizenship test".

The conventional term for "naturalize" had been Ÿd‰» (guīhwà), or ‹A‰» (kika) as it is now written in Japanese. This is an old term, used in classical Chinese texts and early Korean and Japanese chronologies to mean "submitting and changing" in the sense of accepting the moral influence of a sovereign. Japan may have been the first East Asian state to use this term to mean "naturalization" as a legal term in its 1899 Nationality Law.

Ÿd‰» continues to be legal term for naturalization in ROC, Japan, and the Republic of Kore (ROK). I strongly suspect that PRC decided to stop using this term because of its associations with the counterrevolutionary notion of changing one's allegiance as a loyal subject of a sovereign, preferring instead the strictly bureaucratic metaphor of entering one national register from another.

Sawaki on change from Ÿd‰» to ‰Á“ü

The year after the People's Republic of China enforced its new nationality law, the legal scholar Sawaki Takao, writing in an Asahi Journal article, raised two problems concerning the question of what Japanese are when viewed from Japan's nationality law (Sawaki 1981; see Bibliography for particulars and review).

The first of the two problems alludes to the terminology change in PRC's nationality law by way of suggesting that the state, as a political community, is not in a position to demand village-like racioethnic assimilation.

In stating that "naturalization" (‹A‰» kika) into Japan's nationality presupposes "assimilation" into a village-like racioethnic community, he implies that "admission" (‰Á“ü kanyŭ) into PRC's nationality means only joining a political community.

For contextual and reference purposes, I have also translated the second of problem, which addresses the problem of discrimination between nationals and non-nationals in the light of international covenants on human rights. (Sawaki 1981:97, bold emphasis mine)

When looking at [society] this way [as both a political community based on nationality, and as a community of residents regardless of nationality] -- in the problem as to what Japanese people are, seen from the Nationality Law, at the present point in time it is thought that there are two problems.

First, even if [one] formally has Japanese nationality, in actual social life, [one's existence] is the existence of a person who is discriminated within [a community of] Japanese. The People's Republic of China, in [its] new nationality law, abolished the term ‹A‰» (kika, naturalization), and changed [it] to the term ‰Á“ü (kanyŭ, admission). "Naturalization" is something that presupposes [a person] assimilating [into the community], [and] receiving [the person] within the community (‹¤“¯‘Ì kyōdōtai, Gemeinschaft), but therein exists the posing of the problem as to whether the state as a political community is something that [should] demand such homogeneity. Even in a village, the meaning of the political community called the state, which is not an ethnoracial community, has to be asked.

Second, is the discrimination of insiders/outsiders (“àŠOl naigaijin). As for National Pension, National Health Insurance, and so forth, the loci of their problems are as have already been indicated. That the state has a policy goal of achieving and maintaining economic self-reliance cannot be denied, but as the International Covenants on Human Rights declare, even toward aliens, their personal rights are to be maximally respected. Especially environment problems and so forth, the same as for Japanese, are compelling problems for aliens who are continuously residing in Japan. And again, the meaning of aliens, especially permanent-residence aliens, has to be asked.

\¿‰Á“ü’†š š ÐŠl“¾”áy“IC‘¦Žæ“¾’†š š ÐG”í”áy‰Á“ü’†š š Ð“IC•s“¾Ä•Û—¯ŠOš š ÐB
Article 8
Any person who applies for naturalization as a Chinese national shall acquire Chinese nationality upon approval of his application; a person whose application for naturalization as a Chinese national has been approved shall not retain foreign nationality.
’苏ŠOš “I’†š Œö–¯CŽ©Šè‰Á“üˆ½Žæ“¾ŠOš š Ð“IC‘¦Ž©“®‘rŽ¸’†š š ÐB
Article 9
Any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality.
’†š Œö–¯‹ï—L‰º—ñžŠŒ”Vˆê“IC‰ÂˆÈãS\¿”áy‘ޏo’†š š ÐF

  ˆêAŠOš l“I‹ße›¢G
  “ñA’苏ÝŠOš “IG
Article 10
Chinese nationals who meet one of the following conditions may renounce Chinese nationality upon approval of their applications:

  1. they are near relatives of foreign nationals;
  2. they have settled abroad; or
  3. they have other legitimate reasons.
\¿‘ޏo’†š š ÐŠl“¾”áy“IC‘¦‘rŽ¸’†š š ÐB
Article 11
Any person who applies for renunciation of Chinese nationality shall lose Chinese nationality upon approval of his application.
š ‰ÆHìlˆõ˜aŒ»–ðŒRlC•s“¾‘ޏo’†š š ÐB
Article 12
State functionaries and military personnel on active service shall not renounce Chinese nationality.
‘\—L‰ß’†š š Ð“IŠOš lC‹ï—L³ác——RC‰ÂˆÈ\¿‰ø•œ’†š š ÐG”í”áy‰ø•œ’†š š Ð“IC•s“¾Ä•Û—¯ŠOš š ÐB
Article 13
Foreign nationals who once held Chinese nationality may apply for restoration of Chinese nationality if they have legitimate reasons; those whose applications for restoration of Chinese nationality have been approved shall not retain foreign nationality.
’†š š Ð“IŽæ“¾A‘rŽ¸˜a‰ø•œCœ‘æ‹ãžŠ‹K’è“IˆÈŠOC•K{辦—\¿Žè㔁B–¢ŸÞ\”ªŽü[Î]“IlC‰Â—R‘´•ƒ•êˆ½‘´‘¼–@’è‘㗝l‘ãˆ×[ban4•Ù]—\¿B
Article 14
Persons who wish to acquire, renounce or restore Chinese nationality, with the exception of cases provided for in Article 9, shall go through the formalities of application. Applications of persons under the age of 18 may be filed on their behalf by their parents or other legal representatives.
Žó—š Ð\¿“I‹@萁CÝš 內ˆ×ác’nŽsAãpŒöˆÀ‹ÇCÝš ŠOˆ×’†š ŠOŒð‘ã•\‹@萘a—ÌŽ–‹@萁B
Article 15
Nationality applications at home shall be handled by the public security bureaus of the municipalities or counties where the applicants reside; nationality applications abroad shall be handled by China's diplomatic representative agencies and consular offices.
‰Á“üA‘ޏo˜a‰ø•œ’†š š Ð“I\¿C—R’†‰Øl–¯‹¤˜aš ŒöˆÀ•”R”áBãS”áy“IC—RŒöˆÀ•”ᢋ‹æš‘B
Article 16
Applications for naturalization as Chinese nationals and for renunciation or restoration of Chinese nationality are subject to examination and approval by the Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China. The Ministry of Public Security shall issue a certificate to any person whose application has been approved.
–{–@Œö•z‘OC›ßãSŽæ“¾’†š š Ð“Iˆ½›ßãS‘rŽ¸’†š š Ð“ICã‹ã”—LÁB
Article 17
The nationality status of persons who have acquired or lost Chinese nationality before the promulgation of this Law shall remain valid.
Article 18
This Law shall come into force as of the date of its promulgation.