Privacy is a term that is often used in daily life but difficult to define strictly. There are two different definitions of privacy which are ‘the right to be alone’ and ‘the individual’s right to control the circulation of information concerning him or her’ (Orito & Murata, cited in Collste 2008, p. 78). It is not difficult to find that privacy is a concept of controlling information within a range and Collste (2008, p. 80) outlines two questions which are ‘how much control?’ and ‘control of what kind of information?’. However, they are largely influenced by the culture of different countries and therefore it is necessary to understand the differences in dealing with privacy issues since this would be helpful for avoiding troubles during communication in daily life and workplaces in another country.


–          Awareness, Weak Vs. Strong

The Awareness of privacy is weak in China. Unlike the private concept of privacy compared to public in Western countries, there is no same word in Chinese equal to the meaning of privacy (Singer 2004). Due to the living style of thousands of years in Chinese history, more than half of the Chinese live in the countryside which is often a family of generations in the same village and this kind of social structure results in a caring life style in a big group. People are very familiar with each other and usually talk about common life topics which involve family, work and other private issues like salary. Generally, the Chinese people believe that the exchange of personal information with family members or acquaintances is a symbol of harmony and friendship therefore the individual concept in China is weaker than that is in Western countries.

Tip! In China, personal information would not be treated as privacy unless it is really bad such as evil. You are not allowed to disclose other people’s bad issues in public or damage others’ reputation.WeChat Image_20170504010809

–          Foundation, Family/Social-based Vs. Self-centred

The boundary of control privacy in Chinese culture is different from that of the West. For Westerners, the privacy means a kind of right based on the scope of individual (Collste 2008). However, due to the Chinese long history culture, the society is family-based collectivism rather than individualism in Western culture (Liang, Gannon 2004). The family is a particularly important social group, which means that the independence of the individual is not so important. Hence, the family is the basic unit to share personal information (Jin, Liang, cited in Chan 2000).

Besides, in western culture, people believe that the individual’s rights are higher than everything due to the value of everyone is equal. However, influenced by the thoughts of ‘Li’ in Confucian, the status of the family members is unequal. Confucianism believes that women should obey men, the wife should follow her husband and the younger generation should obey the elders which constitute the Chinese ethical culture. Thus, there is no secret in family. For example, it is very common for parents to have the ‘right’ to ask their children where to go, as well as some personal information in Chinese family.

Furthermore, because of the attention in guanxi (relationship) in community – a traditional and important Chinese culture – Chinese people are likely to share their personal information as capital that they are proud of getting the appreciation or admiration in public such as working places. During the breaks in office, hot topics are usually related to the family life such as children’s education, relation with parents and colleagues are pleased to exchange opinions each other. But this, apparently, is unbelievable in Western countries.

Tip! Sharing personal information is constrained in close groups which are composed of acquaintance.


With the deepen of globalization followed by the economic reform in China, the awareness of privacy gradually increased in the past 20 years. Most Chinese are more sensitive to some private topics such as wages, personal family life. However, they are still not taboos between family and close friends, which means the personal information are treated as privacy only between unfamiliar. Thus, this is largely limited to the degree of intimacy in the relationship.


In intercultural communication, it is better to respect the diversity of world culture, understand other countries’ culture and do as the Romans do with open attitude. Understanding the differences of privacy would help avoid unnecessary confusion and contradiction. In China, some topics represent caring and they will minimize the distance between each other. Here is some information for you to know when talking with Chinese people.

– Hot topics

‘Chinese concern’: personal issues such as age, marital status, boyfriend/girlfriend

Family: mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, conjugal relationship, children’s education, relative information

Workplace: gossip information related to boss, employee relations

– Taboos!!

Sex, death, politics, religion


Chan, YK 2000, ‘Privacy in the family: Its hierarchical and asymmetric nature’, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, pp. 1-17.

Collste, G 2008, ‘Global ICT-ethics: the case of privacy’, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, vol. 6, issue 1, pp. 76-87.

Gannon, MJ 2004, Understanding global cultures: Metaphorical journeys through 28 nations, clusters of nations, and continents, Sage.

Singer, MG 2004, ‘The concept of evil’, Philosophy, vol. 79, issue 2, pp. 185-214.

‘Related Reading’

Guide To China – Etiquette, Customs, Culture & Business

How to Communicate with Chinese in China


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