Privacy, Reputation, and Control: Public Figure Privacy Law in Twenty-First Century China

57 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2018

See all articles by Xin Dai

Xin Dai

Peking University - Peking University Law School

Date Written: March 20, 2018


Privacy law, as it regulates the nonconsensual disclosure of personal life, is instrumental to how reputation in human society becomes created, destroyed, and redistributed. In the contemporary Chinese society, as in elsewhere, privacy protection, and the lack thereof, have played an important role in the making of the “haves” and “have-nots” in the society’s reputation landscape. This Article makes a first systematic effort towards accounting for China’s contemporary legal regime that regulates its public figure privacy problems. Through examining leading court cases and relevant regulatory practices, this Article demonstrates that the Chinese privacy regime in the twenty-first century, as embedded in the Party-state’s restrictive information regulation apparatus, differs in significant ways from the corresponding Western paradigms in terms of its operational structure, cultural logic, and political dynamics. Overall, China’s status-based regime is highly protective of government officials until the Party-state purges them from the official ranks. It is also often laissez-faire with respect to privacy of famous individuals outside of the government system, but with notable exceptions for those enjoying an exalted status in the realm of high culture. Furthermore, it can be conspicuously hostile towards ordinary citizens who aspire for the limelight. The impact such public figure privacy regime may have had on China’s reputation landscape is conceivably regressive. As this Article explains, underlying such regime is a lasting, albeit evolving, cultural tradition that tends to associate privacy protection with a hierarchical system of moral outlook. Notwithstanding the importance of culture, this Article further argues that China’s privacy regulation must also be understood as embedded in the country’s political context. As the status-based privacy regime produces disparate reputational consequences, it provides the ruling Party-state with a lever to incentivize and control a diverse network of elites, whom the Party-state considers as agents for upholding its political and moral authority and implementing its social control agenda. China’s privacy regime in the new millennium may thus be understood as having stemmed from an intricate political process as the Party-state strategically responds to rising challenges from increasingly powerful and competing market and social forces over the production of information, fame, and influence.

Keywords: privacy, reputation, public figure, China

JEL Classification: K10, K13, K19

Suggested Citation

Dai, Xin, Privacy, Reputation, and Control: Public Figure Privacy Law in Twenty-First Century China (March 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Xin Dai (Contact Author)

Peking University - Peking University Law School ( email )

5 Yiheyuan Road
Haidian District
Beijing, Beijing 100871

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