Privacy in the Family: Its Hierarchical and Asymmetric Nature
Chan, Ying-Keung, Journal of Comparative Family Studies
YING-KEUNG CHAN [*]
Social and behavioural scientists tend to define privacy in many different ways. Some define it in terms of the individual's ability to withdraw from unwanted interactions; others refer to the subject's ability to avoid public disclosure of personal information. In most cases, discussions of privacy tend to focus on the visible and invisible boundaries between individuals. It has been asserted that the individual's ability to regulate interaction, maintain personal autonomy and control information ultimately depends on the manipulation of these interpersonal boundaries.
The concept of privacy has been examined and theorised in depth by Westin (1970) and Altman (1976). Westin (1970) proposes four states of privacy which include: (1) solitude -- the state of being alone and unobserved; (2) intimacy -- the establishment of intimate relations with others, across various small social units; (3) anonymity - the capability to remain unrecognised in public; and (4) reserve - the ability to protect personal information and to maintain psychological barriers. According to Westin, privacy has four functions: it enables the individual to achieve (1) personal autonomy, (2) emotional release, (3) self-evaluation, and (4) limited and protected communication. Following Westin's discussion of the four states and four functions of privacy, Altman (1976) elaborates on the key elements within the conceptual framework of privacy, and he further suggests that privacy exists in social units composed of combinations of individuals and groups. For Altman, privacy is a question of the permeability of boundaries between oneself and others. It is an input-output process that involves non-monotonic interactions by which individuals accept certain outside stimuli or information while disclosing appropriate information. In other words, in Altman's conception of privacy, individuals contact others selectively, and the individual's perception of privacy develops from his, or her ability to regulate the flow of information efficiently, without interference or intrusion from the outside. Altman's discussion infers that privacy is a dial ectical process that involves the individual's ability to control the permeability of interpersonal boundaries.
Thus we conceive of privacy as a subjective response which varies according to individual preferences and various social settings. However, because of the multiplicity and diversity in the form and function of privacy zones, as well as the artificial or culturally constructed nature of interpersonal boundaries, privacy can be considered, using Fahey's (1995: 700) term, as a "symbolic flag of convenience" which may be attached to various kinds of objects and relationships in different settings and for different purposes. Therefore, the interpretation of privacy is not only culturally specific (Fahey, 1995), but it may also differ significantly within a given juridical structure (Boling, 1994).
PRIVACY IN CHINESE CULTURE
In the West, scholarly definitions of privacy tend to involve the management of personal information and space. Even though the particular demands on a given space may not indicate the individual's ability to access privacy, Western scholars tend to consider the freedom to manipulate this space as the primary means by which the individual achieves privacy objectives. Following this lead, some Chinese scholars argue that there is no concept of privacy in traditional Chinese culture. In his discussions of the Chinese concepts of the "public" and the "private", Jin (1994) states that the Chinese do not have a concept of privacy (or privacy rights). He argues that the Chinese define public and private in abstract ethical terms, which are different from the Western socio-spatial conception of privacy. In addition to this, he maintains that the definition and protection of individual privacy through legitimate means of a right to privacy is conceptually unclear and ambiguous in Chinese society. When examining conc epts of rights and freedom, Liang (1987: 15) also suggests that the Chinese have not had such concepts in the past, and "so far do not understand (these two concepts)".
While there may be no equivalent term for "privacy" in the Chinese language, the existence of similar types of desire or behaviour in Chinese culture must not be overlooked. Taking the states of privacy defined by Westin (1970), for example, it becomes apparent that the Chinese place high values on three of the four states: solitude, reserve and intimacy. If according to Westin, solitude implies a boundary between the self and outsiders with which to maintain space for self-evaluation free from interference, Liang (1987) demonstrates that the Chinese value solitude, which he interprets in terms of efforts directed inward towards thought, repentance, self-restraint and humility. Reserve, which Westin defines in terms of the ability to establish barriers and to protect information, is also a significant state of privacy for the Chinese. If the definition is expanded to include a group's (family's) reserve, the legitimacy and social functions of reserve are justified by the fact that, in Chinese culture, the po wer to abstain from revealing private family matters adds to one's individual merit and might be said to contribute to social stability. Likewise, intimacy, which Westin defines in terms of the individual's ability to establish relationships with others across social units, pertains to Chinese conceptions of privacy. In Chinese society, members within small social groups are clearly differentiated from outsiders, and the relations among members of these groups, particularly among family members, are often intimate. Only anonymity, the capability to remain unrecognised in a public, does not apply to the Chinese conception of privacy. The reason for this is that anonymity has never been regarded as a problem in Chinese society because people prefer to be recognised and praised for their conduct or achievements by fellow clansmen and neighbours.
It is evident that the concept of privacy exists in traditional Chinese culture even though the concept may be relatively ambiguous and even though its boundaries, coverage and realisation may differ from those in Western societies. Under the distinct influences of both Chinese traditions and modern Western culture, therefore, it is meaningful to study how the Hong Kong Chinese conception of privacy is developing to meet the changing social conditions.
In fact, studies show that the Hong Kong Chinese have begun to establish their own conception of privacy. Based on data collected in a survey of 355 Hong Kong urban residents, Traver (1984) finds five factors that relate to questions about the conception of privacy. He finds that Hong Kong people are oriented towards (1) solitude - desire to be alone; (2) disclosures privacy - concern with the governmental collection of information; (3) escape - ability to get away from everyone; (4) domestic privacy - control of domestic living space; and (5) reserve - control of personal information. While the findings of Traver's 1984 study are useful in determining the nature of privacy in Hong Kong, they are only partly confirmed by another empirical study in Hong Kong - the 1995 Hong Kong Social Indicators Survey. According to Chan's (1997) findings in this survey, only solitude and reserve are important to Hong Kong people who appear to desire to be quietly alone and to keep personal matters unknown. At the same time that they pursue solitude and reserve, Hong Kong people want to maintain interaction with others and not to get away from friends and relatives, thus contradicting Traver's suggestion that escape is one of their obvious privacy orientations. While it may seem peculiar that people want to be left quietly alone while maintaining interaction with others, these two desires which depend on a degree of intimacy are conditional, contingent on timing. We suggest that privacy is an input-output process: solitude, which implies a boundary between the self and others and the freedom from outside interference, but does not require a complete closure of interpersonal boundaries. Interaction can therefore be selective, and the asymmetric characteristic of interpersonal relations helps to regulate interaction so that individuals are able to achieve both aims.
Evidence indicates that some key elements of privacy may be observed in Hong Kong people's preferences for secrecy and personal space, but these elements may be perceived in terms differing from those in Western culture. While Hong Kong people value solitude, reserve and intimacy, it has been suggested that they do not appear to be concerned with anonymity or the governmental collection of personal information. We also suggest that the reasons behind this probably have to do with the fact that anonymity is the easiest state of privacy to achieve in a densely populated environment (Traver, 1984) and with the fact that it has never been regarded as a problem in Chinese culture. In fact, Hong Kong people seem to have confidence in their ability to control boundary closure: Traver (1984) and Chan (1997) find that the control of domestic space is an important element of Hong Kong people's concept of privacy and that it is a means to regulate social contact and to achieve solitude. Thus while it is still difficult to determine the exact nature of Hong Kong people's conception of privacy, evidence contradicts Jin's view (1994) that the Chinese notion of privacy is non-spatial.
PRIVACY IN THE FAMILY
The dichotomy between the private and public spheres is strongly associated with the boundary between the family and the outside world even though research shows that privacy units, or zonings, often cut cross this boundary (Fahey, 1995) to involve people other than one's family members, such as co-workers (Marks, 1994). While, as Marks (1994) suggests, the private and public dichotomy needs to be reconsidered, researchers continue to emphasise the home as the main site of private space. Most often it is seen as a space for collective retreat from public scrutiny (Munro and Madigan, 1993) which offers shelter from open public spaces (Fahey, 1995). Fahey (1995: 689) also points out, however, that the family, sequestered from the outside world by its boundary, contains internal graduations of privacy, and he argues that there are small zones of privacy within the family privacy boundary.
Despite certain reservations, the family might still be taken as an integrated unit in the study of privacy. A strong feeling of togetherness or sense of family provides many individuals with key privacy elements. Within this sense of family, however, individual members of a family may perceive privacy differently. Although it has been demonstrated that socioeconomic status has no significant effects on individuals' privacy preferences (Newell, 1994), empirical studies show that men and women differ significantly with regard to (1) their privacy preferences (Pedersen and Frances, 1990; Idehen, 1997), (2) the reasons they require privacy, and (3) the ways they achieve it (Newell, 1994). Craddock (1994) discovers that men who have strong preferences for reserve and intimacy and women who have strong preferences for reserve are more likely to differ from their partners with respect to these areas of privacy. He elaborates that the value ascribed to a particular privacy element, such as reserve, is an individual matter: an individual person does not need to involve his/her partners directly in his/her pattern of behaviour in its pursuit. It is interesting to note that Craddock finds differences between the way couples value solitude and reserve: both of which are positively related to the marital satisfaction of the men but not to that of the women. In their study of privacy within the private sphere, Munro and Madigan (1993: 37) add to the discussion of the individual conceptions of privacy, arguing that many women have low expectations of personal privacy within the household. In fact, these two studies point to an understanding of privacy as process of negotiation that takes place within the realm of the family or home. Munro and Madigan (1993: 41) consider privacy to be something that is negotiated because it involves the physical constraints and the differences of opportunities relating to social roles of family members. Craddock (1994: 372) suggests there is a need for couples to negotiate differences in priva cy preferences, and he believes that incompatible preferences might lead to prolonged power struggle within marriages. If each member of a family has a different privacy preference and regulates interpersonal boundaries accordingly, then questions about the ways in which such small zones are constructed are important.
In traditional Chinese culture, the importance of family is even greater. It has been asserted that the family is the only social group of particular importance. Jin (1994) argues that the independent existence of individuals is not recognised and that individuals are submerged into a system of ethics which takes the family as the basic unit. Liang (1987) also pinpoints the particular importance of family in Chinese culture, and he emphasises the special "love" between father and sons. Liang considers this love to be a supreme state of intimacy, in which the individual places the care of the father/son above his/her own. Liang's view on the relations between individuals and the family in Chinese tradition helps to explain why in Chinese culture; privacy may be defined by the family boundary, by differentiating family members from other people. In fact, the conception of privacy in China is different from its Western counterpart because, in the West, privacy is defined individually or socially in relation to the individual's affiliation with various groups, and the intimacy between members of a particular group is a product of the specificity of the group itself. Thus in a regulatory process of interpersonal boundaries, the permeability of a boundary depends upon the relationship of the actors, so in the West, the boundary is usually assumed to be inter-penetrable under reciprocal conditions. However, in traditional Chinese culture, because of the asymmetric characteristics of the "king-vassal", "fatherson", "husband-wife" relationships, the reciprocity of the input-output process is seldom taken for granted. The dominant in a dyad relationship can acquire the information he/she wants from the other party because it is considered justifiable and natural to do so. A reversal of this is an offence. Therefore, individual rights of privacy are subject to one's status within a social group.
Recently, however, Hong Kong people's conception of privacy, which has been predominately determined by Chinese tradition and culture, is coming under the influence of Western style education. Their ideas are evolving to keep pace with attitude and value changes that are the result of urbanisation, industrialisation and modernisation. Even though these changes are often discussed, there has been little research done on the ways Hong Kong people differentiate personal privacy from family privacy, or in particular, on the patterns and characteristics of privacy zonings within the family. Therefore, it is our intention, with this study, to provide more information regarding these problems. We hope that this study will serve as a basis for future studies on privacy zonings within the family.
DATA AND METHOD
This study is based mainly on data collected in the 1995 Hong Kong Social Indicators Survey, questionnaire module E. The survey was conducted by an interdisciplinary research team under the auspices of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. A probability sample of Hong Kong residents aged 18 and above was selected for the module E. Information from 414 respondents was collected through face-to-face interviews utilising the standardised questionnaire.
In this survey, a group of questions pertain to the kinds of information that may be shared between an individual and particular members of the family -- including parents, spouse, parents-in-law, brothers, sisters, offspring and other relatives. The questionnaire items include: (1) right to know personal income and expenditure; (2) right to read personal mail; (3) right to know one's friends; (4) right to enter one's personal space; (5) the person(s) with whom one discusses study plans; (6) the person(s) with whom one discusses career plans; (7) the person(s) with whom one discusses "making friends"; (8) the person(s) with whom one shares happiness; and (9) the person(s) one talks to when unhappy. Items 1 to 4 concern personal privacy rights, items 5 to 7 involve discussion with (and accepting input from) others, and items 8 and 9 imply joint emotional experience with others. Respondents are asked whether they agree with the rights to share personal information or emotional experiences with their family mem bers (yes = 1, no = 0).
Composite scores (Likert type scales) are computed for the three groups of items according to each category of relationship (except the category for other relatives). For example, there are three scores for parents, one on rights accorded, one on discussion, and another on sharing experience. "Rights accorded" is the mean of items 1 to 4. "Discussion" is the mean of items 5 to 7. "Sharing experience" is the mean of items 8 and 9. Correspondent scores are computed for other categories of relationship in the same way. All scores are within the range of 0 to I inclusively. A "0" score means the respondent either accords no rights to, or discusses nothing with, or shares no experience with the other person while the score of "1" means the opposite. These scales are in general reliable, a [greater than] 0.65 for all "rights accorded" scales constructed, a [greater than] 0.78 for all "discussion" scales constructed, and a [greater than] 0.66 for all "sharing experience" scales constructed (Table 1).
Personal attributes such as age ([less than]40, [geq]40), gender (man, woman), marital status (married, not married), education (primary and lower, secondary and above), working status (working, not working), monthly income (low lower than or equal to the median, high = higher than the median; median = 9,000 Hong Kong dollars), and occupation (low = clerks, services and sales workers, crafts and related workers, machine operators and assemblers, other elementary occupations; high = managers, administrators, professionals, associated professionals) are introduced into the examination of the respondents' position on privacy. In addition, the respondents' roles in the family (husband, wife; parent, child; brother, sister) are also considered.
Among the 414 respondents, 52.1 per cent are under the age of 40, 47.9 per cent are aged 40 or above. About 51.4 per cent of them are women and 48.6 per cent are men. The majority (63.8 per cent) is married and the rest are either single, divorced/separated or widowed. Most respondents have received secondary education or above (64.5 per cent), 34.5 per cent have no schooling or primary education. About 66.1 per cent of respondents are working while 33.9 per cent are not. Among those who are working (273 persons), 34.2 per cent occupy a position in higher ranking occupations while the rest belong to lower ranking categories; 50.2 per cent have a monthly income not exceeding 9,000 and 49.8 per cent have more than 9,000. As for family roles, it is found that among the 414 respondents, 67.6 per cent have the role of parent, 31.9 per cent have the role of child, 39.6 per cent have the role of brother and 43.2 per cent have the role of sister. About 44.7 per cent of the married respondents (264 persons) have the role of husband and 55.3 per cent have the role of wife.
In analysing the nine questionnaire items on privacy separately, we find that the majority of respondents (61.1 per cent) agree that reading another's "personal mail" is invasive. Even though Hong Kong people appear to regard this as the most important item among the rights of privacy usually considered to be very personal, one-third (32.5 per cent) of respondents grant the spouse this right. The second most important aspect of privacy pertains to "personal space": about 25 per cent of respondents state that entering this space without asking for permission is an invasion of privacy; again, however, this boundary often remains open to spouse. Respondents place relatively less emphasis on the personal privacy rights around issues of "income and expenditure" or "friendships outside the home": the spouse (66.2 per cent and 64.5 per cent, respectively) or parents (35.1 per cent and 55.1 per cent, respectively) are granted the right to know (Table 2). Likewise, information regarding "study plan", "career plan" an d "making friends" are rather open to scrutiny from family members: respondents think that they should discuss these matters with spouse (56.7 per cent, 58.0 per cent and 38.8 per cent, respectively), parents (41.6 per cent, 34.4 per cent and 24.7 per cent, respectively), siblings (brothers/sisters: 25.8 / 23.9 per cent, 21.0 / 18.4 per cent, and 12.3 / 12.6 per cent, respectively), and offspring (23.3 per cent, 19.2 per cent, and 15.2 per cent respectively). From the data, we observe that Hong Kong people are keen to share "happiness" with their spouses (69.1 per cent), offspring (51.6 per cent) and parents (41.3 per cent); but, when "feeling unhappy", a spouse (59.3 per cent) appears to be the main person to whom the respondent turns.
The findings strongly indicate the tendency amongst Hong Kong people to regulate the permeability of interpersonal boundaries according to intimacy, or the nature of the relationship between oneself and the other party in interaction. A spouse is consistently assigned the most freedoms vis-a-vis the individual's private sphere, while the privacy boundaries are somewhat less open to parents and offspring. Siblings are less likely to have the privilege of sharing personal information or emotional experiences. The boundary is relatively closed to parents-in-law. In general, other relatives are not considered part of the privileged family group, and because respondents are less likely to share information or emotional experiences outside the immediate family, this category is excluded from further analyses.
The scores on the scales of "rights accorded", interpersonal "discussion" and "experience sharing" differ significantly, depicting a hierarchical pattern according to various categories of relationship (Tables 3 to 5). In general, respondents indicate that they accord the most rights (to know personal matters and to enter personal space) to the spouse, followed by, in descending order, the parents, offspring, siblings and parentsinlaw. Similar patterns may be observed in the data pertaining to the discussion of personal matters and in sharing of emotional experiences, except that (1) people tend to discuss more with siblings than with offspring and (2) they share more experience with offspring than with parents.
When personal attributes are controlled, it is found that older respondents are more open to their spouses and offspring while those who are younger are more open to parents. The openness towards offspring and siblings may vary according to gender: for example, women are more open to offspring and sisters than are men. Married respondents consider their spouses to have the most rights, but they are less open to siblings; those who are not married agree that privacy boundaries between themselves and their parents are relatively more open. in contrast to those with higher level, people with lower levels of formal education tend to grant more freedoms to offspring but fewer to parents. The hierarchical patterns do not differ significantly when respondents are compared by employment status, by occupation, or by monthly income; except that people who are not working, and those who have a lower income, appear to be more open to their offspring. In sum, data show that respondents constantly accord the highest level s of privilege (regarding the knowledge of personal matters and the right to enter personal space) to the spouse and the lowest to their parents-in-law (Table 3).
We observe that older respondents think that they should discuss more with their spouses and offspring but less with their parents. Women tend to discuss more with spouses, offspring and sisters than do men. Respondents who are married discuss more with spouses and offspring while those who are unmarried discuss more with parents and siblings. Respondents with lower levels of education appear to discuss private matters with spouses and offspring significantly more often than those with higher levels. Respondents who are working tend to have fewer discussions with spouses and offspring than those who are not. People who earn higher wages also have fewer discussions with offspring than those who earn lower wages. There is no significant difference between respondents from lower or higher ranking occupations. In general, discussion of personal matters with other family members follows the hierarchical pattern observed above: respondents tend to discuss personal matters most often with their spouses, less often with parents, offspring, siblings, down to the parents-in-law (Table 4).
Younger people appear to be more inclined to share experience with their parents while older people share more with their spouses and offspring. The patterns of sharing experience are alike for both men and women; the exception being that women appear to be more inclined to share experience with offspring and sisters. Respondents who are married are most likely to share experience with spouses and then offspring; those who are unmarried, however, indicate that they share more experience with their parents. Again, respondents with less education are significantly more prone, than those with more education, to share experience with offspring and less prone to share it with parents. Across different categories of employment status, occupation, or monthly income, people show no significant differences in the patterns of experience sharing with family members; the only exception is that people who are not working prefer to share more with their offspring. In data pertaining to emotional experience sharing, we fin d that the hierarchical pattern noted above persists: respondents tend to share more experience with spouses, somewhat less with parents or offspring, and even less with siblings, while they share the least personal experience with parents-in-law (Table 5).
In sum, we observe that the boundary between spouses is highly permeable, and that women, married respondents, and those who are older or less educated appear to maintain the most open or permeable privacy boundaries with their spouses. The relative permeability of the boundaries between the individual and parents and between the individual and offspring vary according to the personal attributes of the respondents. The privacy boundaries between women, married respondents, those who are older and those with less education or who are not working and their offspring tend to be relatively open. These patterns might be indicative of cultural norms: in that Chinese people tend to ascribe to the idea that they become dependent on their son(s) as they age, so the boundary between themselves and their offspring might tend to remain open to maintain the necessary rapport. Men, unmarried respondents, young respondents and those who are well educated or working usually put parents in relatively important position. Unde r the influence of traditional Confucian ethics, Chinese scholars often emphasise filial duty and obedience, which disapproves hiding anything from ones parents. This might explain why respondents with better educational backgrounds tend to be more open to their parents (second to their spouse) but not other family members. Better-educated respondents learn to respect their parents more and so learn to maintain a high level of openness towards them. Compared with those between the individual and his/her parents or offspring, the boundaries between respondents and their siblings appear to be rather closed. The boundary between the individual and parents-in-law is usually protected -- almost to a point of complete closure. This phenomenon may be universal, yet in Chinese society, its implications could be quite significant. Because a large proportion of Chinese families are vertically extended (e.g. in Hong Kong, about 15 per cent in the 1996 Census), and because in most of these families, mother-in-law and dau ghter-in-law are living together, the closure of interpersonal boundaries between them would undoubtedly lead to misunderstanding and faniilial disharmony.
In addition to the hierarchical pattern of privacy connected to interpersonal intimacy hierarchy, the results of the analysis also demonstrate the asymmetric characteristic of privacy preferences between particular dyads. Because of the limitations of the survey data (only one respondent is selected from each household), we are unable to compare the privacy preferences between paired dyads, e.g. husband-wife, parent-offspring, brother-sister etc. Yet in comparing the privacy preferences of respondents by their respective family roles, significant differences may be observed (Table 6). Among those who are currently married, it appears that women are more apt to discuss personal matters with their spouses than are men. Sisters, too, appear to discuss more personal matters with brothers than vice versa. Children would accord more rights to, and discussion of, personal matters with parents in comparison with the rights and discussions parents grant them. There is no significant difference in sharing experience b etween husband-wife, parent-child, brother-sister. Husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters do not differ in rights accorded to the other party. Differences are consistently found in the domain of discussion of personal matters, in comparison with men and parents, women and children are relatively more open to their counterparts in this domain.
Hong Kong people tend to guard personal privacy rights around the issues of personal mail and personal space, restricting access to all except perhaps to a spouse or parent. Other rights manifest flexibility and appear to be defined within the family unit. Respondents suggest that personal information about income and expenditure is open to family members; they often seem to share both happy and unhappy experiences with family members and to invite input into important plans and decisions.
In general, the family is a site of privacy and intimacy. To a certain extent, Hong Kong people are quite family-oriented and tend to conform to the conventions of traditional Chinese culture, which emphasise family togetherness. Although Hong Kong people define privacy by family unit, interpersonal boundaries clearly distinguish near kin from other relatives. In such a way, the family boundary is that of the nuclear family, not that of the extended family defined by larger social relationships or according to situational needs for productive co-operation traditional to Chinese society. By taking these accounts of privacy as indicators of interpersonal relationship, we might say that the patterns of information flow and conununication among fan-tily members reflect the structural changes in Hong Kong families - the disintegration of the traditional extended family and the ascendance of the nuclear family that are a consequence of urbanisation and modernisation.
The family is, however, a complexity of heterogeneous relationships. Within the family, which can be considered as a private sphere, there exist relational hierarchies of intimacy and closeness, and accordingly, small zones of privacy are constructed between members. Such zones are culturally specific to context, and they are believed to be constantly defined and redefined in relation to trends in social change. The findings of this study indicate that interpersonal boundaries between an individual and the different family members show various degrees of permeability, even though these family members are differentiated clearly from outsiders. Thus privacy boundaries are apparently open to next of kin but rather closed to parents-in-law. The types of information which might be shared and the rights to access personal information that are accorded to other members vary significantly, depending on the specific nature of the relationship between the individual and the other party. Such a hierarchical pattern is connected to an interpersonal intimacy hierarchy, in which the permeability of boundaries might be ranked (by increasing levels of closure) from that between the respondent and either a spouse or parent to that between respondent and offspring, then siblings, then parents-in-law, and then other relatives.
This hierarchical pattern conforms to one of the major structural characteristics of traditional Chinese society - egocentrism. It is argued that Chinese people always locate oneself at the, centre of a series of concentric zones of social relationships. These zones are similar to ripples agitated by dropping a piece of stone into the water (Fei 1991: 29): near kin are within the inner zones while those less intimate are remote from the centre.
It is also observed, however, that the relative ranking of various relationships in the intimacy hierarchy may change according to personal attributes. The most obvious difference is that between married and unmarried respondents. Respondents who are unmarried consider parents to be the most important person with whom they share information and emotional experience. On the other hand, married respondents, regardless of gender, value the conjugal bond more than the paternal relationship and they suggest that they are more open to their spouse. This is a deviation from the traditional belief in the strength or importance of parent-child tie, or more precisely, the father-son symbiotic tie, which tends to privilege living parents as the leaders of the family to whom the individual is bound by a constant obligation, whether or not the individual is married. These differences from the traditional norms of egocentric Chinese society might mark a change in the conception of privacy zone which is in concordance with structural changes of families in modern Hong Kong.
Respondents occupying various positions in the family also show difference in privacy preferences. While the limitations of the available data set make it impossible to match husband-wife, father-son or brother-sister dyads within the family unit, a comparison of role categories indicates significant differences in the permeability of interpersonal boundaries. The most obvious differences are those around the individual's willingness to discuss personal matters with other family members. In comparison with husbands, parents and brothers respectively, wives, children and sisters appear to be more willing to discuss personal matters with their counterparts. Such an asymmetry is different from what Kelly has noted in Western societies. Kelly suggests that the loss of symmetry is a consequence of the development of communication technology that has allowed people to equip themselves with advanced techniques with which to invade the privacy of the others. He further argues that "What's gone out of whack is we don 't know who knows about us anymore. Privacy has become asymmetrical" (quoted in Quittner, 1997: 48). However, the asymmetry we observed in Hong Kong families is certainly of a different nature: it is connected to the internal hierarchical structural of rights and obligations, whereas intrusion upon subordinates' privacy is still considered legitimate and justifiable.
In the West, individual interests are not seen to contradict individual rights, and within specific social units individuals are usually assumed to be equal. In China, however, under the influence of Confucian ethics, the sovereign rights of the patriarch and husband constitute the major characteristics of the Chinese patriarchal family system. Family leaders commonly enjoy absolute authority over their subordinates. Father-son, husband-wife and male-female relationships display consistently an asymmetric nature in terms of rights and obligations. In other words, to be a filial son or a submissive wife is in compliance with the moral ethics, in which both age and gender afford social privilege. Such an asymmetric power structure helps to explain the absence of reciprocity in inter-penetration of privacy boundaries in traditional Chinese families.
Inequality that could be legitimised by status differences within the framework of authoritarian power structures might no longer be acceptable in modem China. In fact, for decades, gender roles have been evolving in Hong Kong, and there appears to have been a marked shift to a more egalitarian balance of power and mutual collaboration (Wong, 1981). Regardless of the improving status of women and the developing attitudes of respect for the opinions and desires of younger generations, the above mentioned asymmetry in privacy that persists in Hong Kong families might be considered as a remnant of the traditional culture.
This study has found evidences for the hierarchical and asymmetric nature of privacy in Hong Kong Chinese families. We believe similar hierarchical patterns and asymmetry, whether or not they are culturally justifiable or even desirable, may also exist within families in other modern societies. The prevalence of such patterns and their effects on the satisfaction of family life or conjugal harmony under different social conditions are of certain interest to family sociologists and require further exploration. While this study is limited to privacy zones in the sphere of the family, we think that its findings are useful in developing a broader understanding of privacy. If as Marks (1994) points out in his study of workplace intimacy, privacy zones may extend across the family boundaries and be created in formal organisations, it would be important to develop research that might cover the privacy zonings among friends and colleagues. If the hierarchical patterns and asymmetry persist outside the family, then w e may be able to draw a very different picture of privacy, with the belief that its raison-d' tre and implications might be significant to future studies in the field.
(*.) Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong
1976 "Privacy: a conceptual analysis." Environment and Behavior 8 (1): 7-29.
1994 "Privacy as autonomy vs. privacy as familial attachment: a conceptual approach to right to privacy case." Policy Studies Review 13 (1/2): 91-110.
Chan, Y. K.
1997 "Privacy: does it concern the people?" Pp. 359-381 in Siu-kai Lau, Mingkwan Lee, Posan Wan and Siu-lun Wong (eds.), Indicators of Social Development: Hong Kong 1995. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
1994 "Relationships between marital satisfaction and privacy preferences." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25 (3): 371-382.
1995 "Privacy and the family: conceptual and empirical reflections." Sociology 29 (4): 687-702.
1991 Xiangtu Zhongguo [Earth Bound China]. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (HK) Company Limited.
Idehen, E. E.
1997 "The influence of gender and space sharing history on the conceptions of privacy by undergraduates." IFE Psychologia: An International Journal 5 (1): 59-75.
1994 "Zhongguo ren dui siyinquan de lijie." [Chinese idea of privacy right] Ming Pao Monthly (February): 56-62.
1987 Zhongguo Wenhua Yaoyi [The Essence of Chinese Culture]. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (HK) Company Limited.
Marks, S. R.
1994 "Intimacy in the public realm: the case of co-workers." Social Forces 72 (3): 843-858.
Munro, M. and R. Madigan
1993 "Privacy in the private sphere." Housing Studies 8 (1): 29-45.
1994 "A systems models of privacy." Journal of Environmental Psychology 14 (1): 65-78.
Pedersen, D. M. and S. Frances
1990 "Regional differences in privacy preferences." Psychological Reports 66 (3): 731-736.
1997 "Invasion of privacy." Times (October 13): 42-49.
1984 "Orientations towards privacy in Hong Kong." Perceptual and Motor Skills 59 (2): 635-644.
Westin, Alan F.
1970 Privacy and Freedom. New York: Atheneum.
Wong, F. M.
1981 "Effects of the employment of mothers on marital roles and power differentiation." Pp. 217-233 in Ambrose Y. C. King and Rance P. L. Lee (eds.), Social Life and Development in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.
Reliability of scales construted ([alpha]) Relationship Rights accorded Discussion Sharing experience Parents 0.6755 0.7847 0.7262 Spouse 0.8024 0.8427 0.8549 Parents-in-law 0.6926 0.7880 0.6634 Brothers 0.6562 0.8152 0.7294 Sisters 0.6575 0.7924 0.7245 Offspring 0.7504 0.8322 0.7128 Expected information control and communication between the respondent and his/her family members (% endorsed) Relationship Parents Spouse Parents- Brothers Sisters Offspring in-law Right to know 35.1 66.2 10.3 15.2 13.9 27.1 personal income and expenditure Right to read 8.7 32.5 3.6 3.8 4.3 14.8 personal mail Right to know 55.1 64.5 14.6 25.3 25.8 35.0 one's friends Right to enter 32.6 60.6 12.1 18.6 19.4 39.6 personal space Should discuss 41.6 56.7 9.6 25.8 23.9 23.3 study plan with Should discuss 34.4 58.0 6.3 21.0 18.4 19.2 career plan with Should discuss 24.7 38.8 5.7 12.3 12.6 15.2 "making friends" with Person(s) to share 41.3 69.1 12.2 27.6 27.6 51.6 happiness with Person(s) to talk 23.6 59.3 4.1 15.8 16.6 26.4 to when unhappy Other No one (N) relatives Right to know 0.8 18.0 (388) personal income and expenditure Right to read 1.0 61.1 (391) personal mail Right to know 1.6 14.4 (383) one's friends Right to enter 2.7 24.8 (371) personal space Should discuss 0.8 16.3 (356) study plan with Should discuss 1.0 19.9 (381) career plan with Should discuss 0.8 46.8 (389) "making friends" with Person(s) to share 1.3 7.8 (395) happiness with Person(s) to talk 0.3 21.5 (386) to when unhappy Rights accorded by relationship Relationship Parents Spouse All cases [*] 0.3280 0.5663 By age [less than] 40 0.4110 0.5092 [geq] 40 0.2237 0.6382 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 0.01 By gender Men 0.3441 0.5485 Women 0.3121 0.5838 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By marital status Married 0.2734 0.7567 Unmarried 0.4359 0.2051 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 0.001 By education Primary and lower 0.2500 0.6179 Secondary and above 0.3643 0.5470 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.01 [greater than] 0.05 By working status Not working 0.2905 0.6104 Working 0.3463 0.5455 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By occupation Low 0.3345 0.5423 High 0.3537 0.5762 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.3490 0.5443 High 0.3451 0.5730 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 Parents- Brothers in-law All cases [*] 0.0960 0.1509 By age [less than] 40 0.0820 0.1584 [geq] 40 0.1135 0.1414 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By gender Men 0.0790 0.1412 Women 0.1127 0.1604 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By marital status Married 0.1071 0.1306 Unmarried 0.0770 0.1923 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.05 By education Primary and lower 0.1179 0.1415 Secondary and above 0.0880 0.1549 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By working status Not working 0.1059 0.1486 Working 0.0920 0.1526 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By occupation Low 0.0951 0.1549 High 0.0915 0.l463 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.1172 0.1797 High 0.0752 0.1438 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 Sisters Offspring 0.2464 All cases [*] 0.1545 By age [less than] 40 0.1610 0.1558 [geq] 40 0.1462 0.3602 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By gender Men 0.1279 0.1779 Women 0.1806 0.3136 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By marital status Married 0.1406 0.3002 Unmarried 0.1838 0.1474 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By education Primary and lower 0.1580 0.3915 Secondary and above 0.1528 0.1795 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By working status Not working 0.1757 0.3626 Working 0.1450 0.1894 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By occupation Low 0.1461 0.2130 High 0.1372 0.1494 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.1823 0.2552 High 0.1217 0.1372 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 (*.)Differences (between each pair of scores) are significant at 0.01 level (t-test) except that between brothers and sisters (p [greater than] 0.05). Discussion by relationship Relationship Parents Spouse All cases [*] 0.3460 0.5140 By age [less than] 40 0.3878 0.4694 [geq] 40 0.2902 0.5737 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.05 0.05 By gender Men 0.3679 0.4370 Women 0.3259 0.5847 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By marital status Married 0.2750 0.6966 Unmarried 0.4734 0.1737 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 0.001 By education Primary and lower 0.3203 0.6046 Secondary and above 0.3515 0.4742 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.01 By working status Not working 0.3587 0.5873 Working 0.3404 0.4824 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.05 By occupation Low 0.3379 0.4521 High 0.3435 0.5542 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.3667 0.4800 High 0.3333 0.5192 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 Paretns- Brothers in-law All cases [*] 0.0720 0.1973 By age [less than] 40 0.0560 0.2 194 [geq] 40 0.0930 0.1678 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By gender Men 0.0570 0.1850 Women 0.0860 0.2086 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By marital status Married 0.0750 0.1570 Unmarried 0.0670 0.2745 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.05 By education Primary and lower 0.1078 0.2124 Secondary and above 0.0530 0.1869 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By working status Not working 0.0980 0.1905 Working 0.0600 0.2011 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By occupation Low 0.0571 0.2169 High 0.0683 0.1727 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.0800 0.2300 High 0.0443 0.1800 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 Sisters Offspring All cases [*] 0.1846 0.1846 By age [less than] 40 0.1934 0.0990 [geq] 40 0.2993 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By gender Men 0.1260 0.1159 Women 0.2384 0.2477 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 0.001 By marital status Married 0.1614 0.2 138 Unmarried 0.2297 0.1317 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.05 By education Primary and lower 0.1993 0.3268 Secondary and above 0.1743 0.1213 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By working status Not working 0.2349 0.3079 Working 0.1632 0.1308 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By occupation Low 0.1530 0.1416 High 0.1880 0.1122 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.2033 0.1800 High 0.1475 0.0826 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.014 (*.)Differences (between each pair of scores) are significant at 0.01 level (t-test) except that between brothers, sisters and offspring (p [greater than] 0.05). Sharing experience by relationship Relationship Parents Spouse All cases [*] 0.3247 0.6442 By age [greater than] 40 0.4192 0.5909 [geq] 40 0.2246 0.7005 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 0.05 By gender Men 0.3459 0.6081 Women 0.3050 0.6775 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By marital status Married 0.2570 0.8446 Unmarried 0.4508 0.2652 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 0.001 By education Primary and lower 0.2311 0.6667 Secondary and above 0.3750 0.6349 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.001 [greater than] 0.05 By working status Not working 0.2674 0.6202 Working 0.3529 0.6569 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By occupation Low 0.3129 0.6380 High 0.4226 0.7321 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.3578 0.6250 High 0.3690 0.7261 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 Parents- Brothers in-law All cases [*] 0.0820 0.2143 By age [greater than] 40 0.0780 0.2576 [geq] 40 0.0860 0.1684 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.05 By gender Men 0.0840 0.2270 Women 0.0800 0.2025 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By marital status Married 0.0840 0.1673 Unmarried 0.0720 0.2992 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By education Primary and lower 0.0800 0.1932 Secondary and above 0.0830 0.2262 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By working status Not working 0.0890 0.1928 Working 0.0780 0.2255 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By occupation Low 0.0614 0.1963 High 0.1131 0.2798 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.0733 0.2155 High 0.0913 0.2656 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 Sisters Offspring All cases [*] 0.2182 0.3909 By age [greater than] 40 0.2500 0.2121 [geq] 40 0.1845 0.5802 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By gender Men 0.1703 0.3243 Women 0.2625 0.4525 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.05 0.01 By marital status Married 0.1853 0.4502 Unmarried 0.2765 0.2765 Sig. of difference (t-test) 0.05 0.001 By education Primary and lower 0.1894 0.5871 Secondary and above 0.2341 0.2897 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By working status Not working 0.2442 0.5543 Working 0.2059 0.3079 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.001 By occupation Low 0.1718 0.3313 High 0.2670 0.2679 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 [greater than] 0.05 By monthly income Low 0.2190 0.3664 High 0.2217 0.2652 Sig. of difference (t-test) [greater than] 0.05 0.042 (*.)Differences (between each pair of scores) are significant at 0.01 level (t-test) except that between brothers and sisters (p [greater than] 0.05). Relationship and difference of privacy preference Rights accorded to the Discussion with the other party other party (N) (N) Between husband and wife Husbands 0.7723 (101) 0.6285 (96) Wives 0.7430 (123) 0.7480 (127) Sig. of difference [greater than] 0.05 0.02 (t-test) Between parent and child Parents 0.3307 (118) 0.2504 (121) Children 0.4597 (223) 0.4628 (221) Sig. of difference 0.001 0.001 (t-test) Between brother and sister Brothers 0.1279 (170) 0.1260 (164) Sisters 0.1604 (173) 0.2086 (179) Sig. of difference [greater than]0.05 0.02 (t-test) Sharing experience with the other party (N) Between husband and wife Husbands 0.8125 (112) Wives 0.8705 (139) Sig. of difference [greater than] 0.05 (t-test) Between parent and child Parents 0.5190 (120) Children 0.5083 (263) Sig. of difference [greater than] 0.05 (t-test) Between brother and sister Brothers 0.1703 (185) Sisters 0.2025 (200) Sig. of difference [greater than] 0.05 (t-test)…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Privacy in the Family: Its Hierarchical and Asymmetric Nature. Contributors: Chan, Ying-Keung - Author. Journal title: Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Volume: 31. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2000. Page number: 1. © 1998 University of Calgary. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.