Chinese Wall

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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. 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.


Chinese Wall (plural Chinese Walls)

  1. (idiomatic, jargon) A barrier of silence and secrecy established within an organization in order to cope with confidentiality requirements.
    • 1988. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. v.Superior Court 200, Cal.App.3d 272, 293-294, 245 Cal.Rptr. 873, 887-888:
      I concur in the opinion of Justice Haning, but write separately to comment on the apparently widespread use of the term "Chinese Wall" to describe the type of screening mechanism discussed in this case. While our opinion uses the term "screen," both the parties and the trial court used the term "Chinese Wall," which seems to have become a term of art. I write to express my profound objection to the use of this phrase in this context.
    • 1980. The Chinese Wall Defense to Law Firm Disqualification 128 U.Pa.L.Rev. 677:
      The enthusiasm for handy phrases of verbal shorthand is understandable. Occasionally, however, lawyers and judges use a term which is singularly inappropriate. "Chinese Wall" is one such piece of legal flotsam which should be emphatically abandoned. The term has an ethnic focus which many would consider a subtle form of linguistic discrimination. Certainly, the continued use of the term would be insensitive to the ethnic identity of the many persons of Chinese descent.

Usage notes[edit]

Often considered pejorative. However, it remains a technical term in relatively common use in financial and legal discourse.