Public vs. Private

By greenteapanda

May 17, 2007

Category: Education

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I got into a discussion today about what is public and what is private. Chinese people have a very different concept of this than western people. In Chinese culture, the only thing that seemed to be considered private was the living space at home, if each family member has their own room. Private in Chinese culture means one person’s space. So if you have a roommate, it seems that you do not have any private area to go to.

My concept – a place public if any ordinary person can go there, without stipulations. If it is not, it is private, even if the place happened to be built or run with public money. A business is private – if you do not follow the rules, they can kick you out. You are the guest. A park is public – you can be moved to jail if you ignore the rules of society in the park, but otherwise, you can do as you please.

In Chinese culture, there are other categories besides public and private. So I asked the teacher to classify places under either public or private. The teacher said a military base is considered a semi-public area. Despite the fact that a random person can’t just walk onto the base by themselves, there is a large enough population of Chinese in the army that it is considered public. It is also possible to have a friend that works there, accompanying you onto the base. I found this strange to be called public, since this would fall under my concept of private. Especially since if you are accompanied onto a military base, you still can’t go anywhere you feel like.

The teacher pointed out that the military base and government offices all have laws that are created by the government, applying to everybody, just like in a public park. I pointed out there are laws that apply in so-called private places, like the home. For example, child abuse is not allowed simply because it happens behind closed doors at somebody’s home. Furthermore, private places often have more rules rather than less rules. The people that live or work in the private place often agree to a set of rules that go beyond the basic rules of society.

This is just public vs. private places. We did not even discuss other things like public vs. private property, which also has some obvious differences with western countries, especially western countries with strong patent, copyright, and trademark laws. For example, there is a fake Disneyland in Beijing that has been operating for over 20 years now.


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