A Swinger's Case: China's Attitude Toward SexBy Austin Ramzy / Beijing Saturday, May. 22, 2010
Prosecutors say the 53-year-old Ma, who divorced in 2003, 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, they claim, even occurred in the small apartment belonging to his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. (See photos of the making of modern China.)
Police tracked down the group and Ma was arrested last year, along with 13 other men and eight women, for organizing group sex sessions. His co-defendants all pleaded guilty; 18 were sentenced to jail terms of up to two-and-a-half years, while three were released without punishment. Ma, however, remains defiant. While he admits to organizing and participating in swingers' clubs, he says that because the activities occurred between consenting adults behind closed doors, he shouldn't be punished.
"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," he was quoted as saying by the government's official paper China Daily. "What we did, we did for our own happiness. People chose to do it of their own free will and they knew they could stop at any time. We disturbed no one." (See TIME's China covers.)
Ma's is a view that some in China share. While experts estimate the number of Chinese participating in group sex at under 100,000 — a tiny figure in a country of 1.3 billion — some commentators have argued that the practice shouldn't be prohibited. "If there is no victim, then I think the government shouldn't interfere," says Li Yinhe, a prominent sexologist in Beijing. "It's a private matter."
Comments posted online show a mixed opinion. Many are critical of Ma's behavior. "You led a 22-person orgy. You have destroyed ethics and morality," writes one person on a Chinese microblog service at sohu.com. "This behavior has caused social chaos. People like you should be punished severely." But others argue that China shouldn't regulate the behavior of consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. "What Teacher Ma did violates society's ethics and morality, but it's his private life," another person wrote on a bulletin board at xici.net. "Moreover, everyone was an adult, and everyone was a voluntary participant. What crime is there in that?"