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Overview of electronic signature law and its legality in China

Electronic signatures have been legal in China since 2004, with the passage of the Electronic Signature Law of the People’s Republic of China. Electronic signatures can be used in general business settings, though there may be certain exceptions depending on the type of business you run.

And depending on the type of transaction you’re conducting, eSignatures are legally admissible in court. In China, the law states that an electronic signature cannot be deemed invalid simply because it isn’t handwritten.

Are electronic signatures legal in China?

China began to recognize eSignatures as legally valid in 2004. The law states that if two parties reach a written or electronic agreement, that agreement is considered legally binding.

China’s eSignature law states that contracts may be signed electronically, and this agreement is admissible in court. However, one or both parties may need to provide additional documentation to prove the contract was signed electronically.

An overview of China’s legal model

China operates under a civil law system, which is derived from old Roman law. Civil law systems are based on a set of codified principles that are easily accessible to professionals and everyday citizens alike. 65% of the world operates under a civil law system, including most of Europe.

However, some aspects of China’s legal system more closely resemble a common law system. The country utilizes a civil law system in regard to property, contracts, and criminal law. In comparison, China resembles a common law system when it comes to corporate law, taxation, insurance, and banking.

Electronic Signature Law of the People’s Republic of China

The Electronic Signature Law of the People’s Republic of China first passed in 2004 and was updated in 2015. It provides a legal framework to govern the legitimacy of electronic signatures in China.

The law states that eSignatures can be used to sign general business contracts and documents. Electronic signatures can also be used on certain government documents.

However, a handwritten signature is required for the following types of documents:

  • Marriage certificates
  • Adoption papers
  • Documents involving the transfer of land or other property
  • Documents stating the cancellation of utility services

Are standard electronic signatures (SES) appropriate?

Many people don’t realize that there are different types of electronic signatures, and some are more secure than others. A qualified electronic signature (QES) is the most secure type of eSignature.

That’s because it was created on a qualified electronic signature creation device and comes with an electronic signing certificate. A QES is given the same legal weight as a handwritten signature.

A standard electronic signature (SES) is not as secure as a QES. That’s because, with an SES, there is no obvious proof of who signed the document. The signature may not come with an electronic signing certificate, and it may have been typed or uploaded.

However, an SES is appropriate on the following types of documents:

  • Non-disclosure agreements
  • Employee benefits paperwork
  • Employee onboarding paperwork
  • Purchase orders
  • Sales agreements
  • Service agreements
  • Retail accounts
  • Software licenses
  • User manuals and policies

Can I use PandaDoc’s software in China?

Yes, PandaDoc software complies with the current eSignature laws in China. Every time you sign a contract, you’ll receive an electronic signing document. That way, you know your contracts and documents are legally binding and will stand up in court.

And best of all, PandaDoc offers a free plan that gives you access to unlimited electronic signatures. You can learn more about our Free eSign Plan here.