[CHINA] Campaign of Shame Falls Flat Over Privacy Rights
- Campaign of shame falls flat in China
Public humiliation as punishment sets off a debate over individual
privacy and the limits of state intrusion.
By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer
BEIJING When police in booming Shenzhen organized a parade of 100
prostitutes, pimps, madams and their customers recently, there was
little to suggest they were on shaky ground. Not only did it seem
like a great way to kick off a two-month anti-prostitution campaign,
the methodology was time-tested: Public shaming has featured
prominently in China's criminal justice system for thousands of years.
In show-trial fashion, the shackled defendants were marched through
Shenzhen's Shazui neighborhood, better known locally as "Mistress
Village," in government-issue yellow shirts and black pants. Photos
by local journalists show the women trying to cover their faces at
the late November event. Any hope of anonymity was soon frustrated
when police began calling out the names and addresses of each alleged
offender to a crowd of 1,000 or so, announcing a 15-day sentence and
ushering them to waiting prison vans.
The name-and-shame campaign has backfired, however, amid a growing
social debate over individual privacy and the limits of state
Within a week, more than 100,000 people had weighed in on the
Internet, the closest thing to voting in China's one-party state,
with opinions on the Sina Web portal running 7 to 3 against the
Several regional state-run papers on their websites condemned the
move as an ineffective, unacceptable violation of privacy. China has
vaguely worded language on privacy in its labor, medical and postal
laws and in the constitution, but implementation is often arbitrary
at the hands of a traditionally intrusive state. Some Netizens
questioned the logic of going after little fish while ignoring
corrupt police and officials protecting the rackets. Lawyers and
academics called on the National People's Congress to enact tougher
laws preventing such treatment.
"The police may have had good intentions, but what they did was
illegal," said Song Yixin, an attorney with the Shanghai Newhope law
firm, citing a regulatory change in the 1980s that banned public
humiliation of suspects. "This is reminiscent of China 20 years ago.
And to have it happen in as developed a place like Shenzhen is
Song said the event may have a silver lining by forcing China to
fundamentally rethink its privacy rights policies, in the same way
the 2003 police beating death of a graphic designer who was detained
for not carrying a residence permit forced an overhaul of vagrancy
and migrant worker rules.
As the property-owning middle class has expanded in recent years, the
public has pushed back on privacy issues.
Zhejiang province introduced rules this year requiring police to
obtain permission from higher officials before entering hotel rooms.
Shanghai's Shixi Primary School was forced to scrap a fingerprint
monitoring system for students last year in the wake of widespread
criticism over students' privacy rights. The central government is
drafting privacy and government disclosure laws.
Privacy lawsuits, virtually unimaginable in the 1980s, are
increasingly common. These range from reports of a farmer who sued a
local hospital in April for plastering his X-rays on hospital
brochures to those of a 22-year-old single woman who won $1,200 in a
privacy suit in far western Xinjiang a few years ago after a doctor
allowed 20 interns to witness her abortion.
The outcry over privacy issues notwithstanding, China's increasingly
well-funded, tech-savvy security regime has more resources at its
disposal than ever before.
Since the 2003 launch of the government's Gold Shield Program, police
have collected digital records on 1.25 billion of the nation's 1.3
billion people, police official Liu Shuo told the official New China
News Agency this spring. An estimated 30,000 cyber police monitor the
surfing habits of Internet users. At least 200,000 cameras monitor
residents in Beijing and Shanghai, with tens of thousands in smaller
cities, amid plans by many cities to double those numbers within five
Although most Chinese appear to believe the police and central
government have their best interests in mind, they're also
increasingly worried about data leakage by corrupt officials to sales-
hungry companies. In a nationwide survey in June, the state-run China
Youth Daily found 91% were worried about misuse of private
information and 74% in favor of tougher laws.
Too much information
Survey respondents expressed shock at how much salespeople knew about
them, not limited to their names and incomes, but their children's
birthdays, the direction their apartments faced and their license
plate numbers. "Even the recently divorced get calls from marital go-
betweens," the newspaper said, blaming government agencies for the
The Chinese website Souren, or "personal search," and its competitors
advertise access to 90 million ordinary people's incomes, marital
status and other sensitive information for as low as 12 cents per
In line with society's gradual change in mind-set, police shaming
campaigns in recent decades have become less common. But China has
employed shame as a means of social control and crime deterrence for
most of its history, experts said, extending through the Cultural
"Shaming was very popular in ancient times with the trip from the
court to jail to exile all a form of public humiliation," said Chen
Xiaoming, professor of law at Xiamen University. "Punishment included
tattooing on a criminal's face and cutting off their feet."
Tattooing of criminals was highly codified, with certain colors and
certain parts of the body reserved for specific crimes, historians
said. Other methods included cutting off noses to engender social
stigma and tying people up in public with signboards so fellow
citizens could throw vegetables and other objects at them.
When the Communist Party took power in 1949, cadres were given broad
latitude to pry into citizens' lives, dictating how they should
dress, act and think. At the peak, the state even monitored women's
menstrual cycles under the one-child campaign.
Shenzhen, a fast-paced economic center abutting Hong Kong, has a
reputation as a vice capital for Hong Kong businessmen with
mistresses or second wives. At least 10 of those arrested were
reportedly Hong Kong residents.
The two-month anti-graft push, which lasts through December, is
officially known as the Special Campaign to Crack Down on
"It's hard to imagine what the police chief who organized this was
thinking," said Song, the attorney. "The ignorant aren't afraid of