Privacy for My Privates, Please.

Today, a story of the Nanjing professor Ma Yaohai, who has been proclaimed on the front page of multiple English and/or international newspapers as ‘a swinger who has tested the morality of China’. Sounds dangerous.

Ma Yahohai is a 53 year old man who, on the outside, seems tolerable, if even generous (although to some, perhaps a bit pathetic). He is, on paper, a twice divorced computer science professor who claims dedication to his students and his dear mother, an elderly woman suffering from degenerative Alzheimer’s.

In real life, however, he is something else entirely. It has just been made public that Ma has dirty laundry hidden deep inside the closet (just like most of us do). For over six years, he has been an active member of swingers clubs and group sex meetings, as well as trying his hand at partner swapping.

As an active member of online sexual communities in China, he is known as ‘Roaring Virile Fire’.

It’s been said that he has organized and engaged in more than 18 orgies, most in his 2 bedroom Nanjing apartment, where he lived with his mother (am unsure as to what his mother may have thought in these situations, and this is where it is difficult to find him anything but a bit strange).

This week, Ma was sent to jail for three and a half years, charged and sentenced with the crime of ‘crowd licentiousness’. Of course, he unquestionably plans to appeal to this seemingly hyped-up crime, claiming that his sexual life should be private, if it causes no disturbance to others around him.

In an interview given to the New York Times reporter Xiyun Yang, Ma was reported as having said, “Marriage is like water. You have to drink it. Swinging is like wine. Some people feel it’s delicious the first time they try it, so they keep drinking. Some people try it and think it tastes bad, so they never drink it again. It’s completely voluntary. No one is forcing you.” (See article here)

Ma, along with 21 other associated swingers, was charged under Criminal Law 301, a nearly 13 year old law based on the prevention of ‘hooliganism’ that has so far never been used by the judicial system in China. It is a clear example of the Communist party ruling by laws that are outdated and deemably unusable in the constantly changing era that now makes up modern China. 10 months ago, the police arrested Ma and five others in a hotel in Nanjing, detaining them until they provided a list of names of the swingers they were acquainted with. In the end, 22 people were charged with ‘crowd licentiousness’ – but Ma was the only one to plead not guilty.

The trial raises interesting and important questions regarding the right to sexual freedom, as well the right to limit an ordinary citizen’s privacy. Together, these issues have managed to simultaneously cast doubt on the Chinese government once again.

One of China’s most prominent sexologists, Lin Yinhe, (married to the popular contemporary erotic writer Wang Xiaobo, who comes highly recommended) stated to reporters that tens of thousands of Chinese couples now participate in swapping, through websites like “Happy Village”, which supposedly has 380,000 members. Ma himself, who suffered from multiple failed marriages, began meeting people to swing online in 2003, and four years later, set up his own website, called “Independent Travel For Husbands, Wives and Lovers”. By 2009, the site had nearly 200 members. Ma found that most of the people joining the community were white-collar workers, taxi drivers and salesclerks. There is a clear need for niche communities like this, despite the social prejudice that they may often feel the wrath of.

I have lived in cities across the world and seen the good and bad of people’s sexual morality. Montreal seems to hold it all, accepting most anything that a person chooses to do in their bedroom – their bed, their life. It is China, and in many ways, Asia, that I find to be the most conservative when it comes to public affection, and in a broader sense, sexuality in general.

Given the fact that Mark and I are involved in a multi-racial relationship, I know that people will stare at us no matter what. While relationships involving Caucasian males and Chinese females are becoming the common thing, it is still rare for one to see a Caucasian female holding the hand of a Chinese male. Nonetheless, I often feel awkward after sharing an intimate kiss with my loved one, not because of my skin color, but more so because I find myself wondering if others around me are feeling uncomfortable from such public displays of affection. Most older couples I see while walking around Beijing show little to no physical love when in public, making it hard to distinguish the status of their relationship. The generation of today’s mothers and fathers are not used to customs such as holding-hands, let alone kissing while others eyes may be drifting.

That being said, China is entering a new phase of existence, and with this comes the bearing of a new, progressive age of sexual thought and practice. At the moment, it’s being hid behind curtains – but they’re not that difficult to see through. Walking home from restaurants, I often stumble when passing by tiny rooms holding one woman, who is typically sewing away on a small piece of fabric. In the past, I thought these were some sort of small barbershops. Turns out, they are prostitution shops – holding just one or two prostitutes, waiting for their clientele. Chinese students, as well, are well-acquainted with pornography. And condoms are sold in the check-out line of most department stores.

Ma Yahohai’s case, then, is the public announcement that sexuality has come to China to stay. And as long as it’s private, it should not be anyone’s business. As Lin Yinhe so accurately said in one report, while partner-swapping may not be socially and morally acceptable, “Just violating social convention isn’t violating the law. As long as activities don’t harm anyone else, one has a right to participate in them.” It is one more lit straw that is forcing those in charge to come face to face with the fact that one day, things will eventually have to change in China.

…Either that, or life will begin to take place in prison…

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