China has recognized electronic signatures (or “eSignatures”) since 2004, with the passage of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Electronic Signatures. While China is still largely a paper-driven business environment, eSignature has become increasingly common over the years—particularly in online commercial business.
Under Chinese law, a written signature is not required for a valid agreement or contract. Contracts are generally considered valid if legally competent parties reach an agreement, whether they agree verbally, electronically, or using a physical document.
The Law of the People's Republic of China on Electronic Signatures specifically confirms that “reliable” electronic signatures have the same legal weight as handwritten signatures. An electronic signature is considered reliable if the following conditions are met:
- The electronic signature is solely owned and controlled by the signer
- Any alterations to the signed document or the electronic signature made after signing are detectable
Common eSignature use cases
Use cases where electronic signatures are considered appropriate in China include:
- HR documents such as employment contracts, NDAs, employee invention agreements, privacy notices, benefit paperwork, and other new employee onboarding documents
- Commercial agreements between corporate entities including purchase orders, invoices, sales agreements, distribution agreements, service agreements, and NDAs
- Consumer agreements including new retail account opening documents, sales terms, service terms, software licenses, purchase orders, order confirmations, invoices, and user manuals
Use cases where eSignature is not appropriate
Certain use cases are specifically barred from electronic processes in China and some transactions must be registered with an agency that only accepts handwritten signatures. These include:
- Commercial and residential leases with a term of more than six months
- Real property transfer contracts
- Certain family law documents, including those related to marriage, adoption, and succession
- Government-related filings, including application forms for registration or licensing and assignment of intellectual property rights
- Certain commercial contracts, including major transactions of listed companies
- Securitization documents
Technology standards in China
The requirements for electronic signature technology vary significantly between countries. China takes an open, technology-neutral approach to electronic signature. This means there are no laws requiring the use of specific technology for a legally enforceable electronic signature. Other countries—particularly those in the EU, South America, and other parts of Asia—follow tiered eSignature models that may require specific technical requirements and/or independent accreditation by a local certification body.
The information on this site is for general education and informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide and should not be considered legal advice. Laws pertaining to electronic signatures may change quickly, so Conga cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information on this site. Consult with a licensed attorney for answers to any specific legal questions on this topic.
Last updated: 09/09/2021