Saving Face: Unfolding the Screen of Chinese Privacy Law

Journal of Law, Information, and Science (Forthcoming)

33 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2016 Last revised: 14 Aug 2017

See all articles by Tiffany C. Li

Tiffany C. Li

University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center); Yale Law School - Information Society Project; Yale Law School - Information Society Project

Jill Bronfman

UC Hastings Law

Zhou Zhou

Wikimedia Foundation

Date Written: August 2017


Privacy is often a subjective value, taking on meaning from specific social, historical, and cultural contexts. Western privacy scholars have so far generally limited academic study to focus on Western ideals of privacy. However, privacy – or some notion of it – can be found in almost every culture and every nation, including the growing economic powerhouse that is the People’s Republic of China. Focusing on China as a case study of non-Western privacy norms is important today, given the rapid rise of the Chinese economy and its corresponding impact on worldwide cultural norms and law. Simply put, it is naïve to believe that privacy law will develop in the near future without the influence of China. First, though China does not have a developed body of privacy law, any privacy laws China chooses to implement now and in the future will certainly affect business and organizations seeking to invest in and engage with Chinese consumers. With the size and economic impact of the Chinese consumer base, international technology organizations would be remiss in ignoring the development of Chinese privacy laws. Second, understanding Chinese conceptions of privacy is crucial to the study of international privacy law. China has a great deal of influence in the Asian region, which is particularly important given the somewhat unclear status of the APEC Privacy Principles. Given the long-arm reach of many nations’ privacy laws (particularly the EU’s current and proposed regulations), several signs indicate that China may follow the EU’s example in enforcing its privacy laws worldwide. For these reasons, it is imperative that privacy scholars and practitioners pay close attention to the field of Chinese privacy law. As Chinese privacy laws today are still fairly underdeveloped, now is the time to carefully study how cultural norms have impacted the development of Chinese privacy law thus far and how future regulations can and should develop, given Chinese cultural foundations of privacy. This paper will attempt to illuminate the state of privacy law in China, by evaluating current legal developments, exploring cultural and historical perceptions of privacy, and analyzing how China’s unique perceptions of privacy may influence the future development of new norms in China’s growing privacy regime. In particular, this paper looks to the significant contrast between traditional Western ideals of privacy as an individual right and traditional Chinese ideals of privacy related to the concepts of “saving face” and community values, ultimately leading to recommendations for future data regulation policies based on the unique cultural and historical values of Chinese perceptions of privacy.

Keywords: China, Chinese, Privacy, Data Privacy, Security, Reputation, Culture, International Law

JEL Classification: N45, O38,

Suggested Citation

Li, Tiffany and Bronfman, Jill and Zhou, Zhou, Saving Face: Unfolding the Screen of Chinese Privacy Law (August 2017). Journal of Law, Information, and Science (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Tiffany Li

University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center)

Two White Street
Concord, NH 03301
United States

Yale Law School - Information Society Project ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Yale Law School - Information Society Project ( email )

New Haven, CT

Jill Bronfman (Contact Author)

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

Zhou Zhou

Wikimedia Foundation ( email )

149 New Montgomery Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA
United States

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