And Finally

Sexual politics

Controversy over “group licentiousness”

Ma: the more the merrier

“Marriage is like water: you have to drink it. Swinging is like a glass of fine wine: you can choose to drink it or not,” says Ma Yaohai, China’s most famous swinger.

The twice-divorced computer science professor at Nanjing University of Technology has grabbed headlines since he was arrested in August for organising group sex sessions. Last week, Ma was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for what the Chinese government calls “group licentiousness”.

Prosecutors say the 53 year-old began pursuing group sex in 2007. According to authorities, he used online chat groups to set up 35 meetings over a two-year period, half of which he participated in. Some are said to have taken place in the apartment belonging to his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

During the trial, Ma admitted to the facts but maintains he did nothing wrong because the activities occurred between consenting adults behind closed doors. But the chief judge said group licentiousness infringed upon public order.

“How can I disturb social order? What happens in my house is a private matter,” said Ma at the start of the two-day trial back in April.

Internet polls seems to suggest that most netizens side with the professor (even if they probably wouldn’t go to his parties). In a survey published by China News Net, over 61% of the 33,196 respondents said Ma should not have been brought to trial.

Several Chinese news websites also posted editorials echoing that view. “This kind of behaviour is a citizen’s personal freedom; this is a part of the private rights of citizens,” says the writer Yi Bo, on a site maintained by the propaganda department of Shanxi Province.

China is stumbling toward a more liberal attitude towards sex and sexuality. “Sex liberation stymied by law,” ran the headline of a front-page article in the China Daily. It went on to question whether national laws on sexual behaviour are lagging behind the times.

Meanwhile, as part of an ongoing effort by the government to crackdown on indecency, Beijing police recently closed down four nightclubs widely known to be offering escort services to wealthy clients. During the raid, police also arrested 557 women at the clubs.

Another victory for President Hu’s vision of a “harmonious society”? Perhaps, although the tone of local news coverage about the closures was far from celebratory. Beijing Evening News points out that prostitutes are one of the largest groups of renters in Beijing and warn that if the police continue their crackdown, many of these women will leave the city within the next three months. The fear among local property owners: that rents in the area could take a nosedive.


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