IT IS surely telling that the characters that make up yinsi, the Chinese word for “privacy”, carry the connotations of illicit secrets and selfish, conspiratorial behaviour. The notion of privacy has not traditionally been valued in China, and proof of that is on display everywhere. The country’s public lavatories are often open-plan affairs where locals unabashedly squat elbow-to-elbow as they tend to their business. In hospitals, modesty is often thrown to the wind as treatments are carried out in full view of milling crowds. In the most casual of social interactions, complete strangers think nothing of asking each other details”about their salary, weight and so on”that most westerners would not share even with close friends.
Despite all this, there are signs that the concept of privacy is gaining currency. Echoing the debates now common in western societies, many in China are beginning to bristle at the intrusiveness of nosy employers, data-mining marketers and ubiquitous security cameras.