Chinese Wall is moral dilemma: How idioms originate

Chinese Wall in Poker
poker is the perfect example of not showing your hand (photo by Raymond Tan)

As I contemplate my next travel destination, my enthusiasm starts with a trip to Russia, then Egypt and Morocco and finally India, again.

Then it occurs to me, having just finished reading Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin, why not China?

(Li’s tale is an inspiring insight into the Chinese work ethic and determination to rise above circumstances.)

So while mulling over the idea of flying to the East, I hear the expression ‘Chinese Wall’ used in a newscast, and it’s one I don’t know.

A Chinese Wall, Investopedia says is “an ethical barrier that prevents communication between members of an organisation that might lead to conflicts of interest. For example, a Chinese wall could exist between departments where the exchange of information could unfairly influence trades.

Although the financial markets lay claim to the this term,  with Wiktionary adding, “The expression Chinese Wall comes from the Great Wall of China and became a metaphor of barriers, known to go back to the United States stock market crash of 1929.

Conflict of interests

“The U.S. government saw the need to maintain separation (or an information barrier) between investment bankers and brokerage firms, to limit the conflict of interest between the two. The first use of Chinese Wall in the general context of keeping confidentiality is unclear.”

But the term has crossed over into other professions and is widely used in law for example a firm would not represent both parties to a divorce due to a conflict of interests and the Chinese Wall principle.

In modern language, the term ‘ethical wall’ is preferred as Chinese refers to a race and may be found offensive in some circles.

And the wall itself, – The Great Wall of China, declared a World Heritage Sight in 1987, measures 21,000km but only 8% of its original form remains, a recent study says. It’s said to be about 500 years old and is a series of structures believed to be united under the Qin dynasty.

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