Li Yinhe: In Defence of Professor Ma Xiaohai

Sexologist and activist Li Yinhe has dedicated her latest three blog posts to the defence of Ma Xiaohai, a Nanjing Technical University professor who recently pleaded ‘not guilty’ to accusations of group licentiousness, having been caught organising group sex meetings. In a previous post, Li defended Professor Ma’s right to sexual freedom (referring to him with the pseudonym Professor Wang).

Professor Ma is involved in the ‘swingers trial’ currently in progress in Nanjing, in which 22 people are accused of violating group licentiousness law for participating in ‘wife-swapping’ activities. The law forbids all sexual activity between three or more people, even when private and between consenting adults, but has never been invoked before.

The case has attracted plenty of attention from the media and on message boards, especially given that Professor Ma was the only defendant to plead not guilty. Interestingly, although the media have generally slated him, Ma receives considerable support in online discussion forums.

In the last week, Li Yinhe has published three blog posts about the case. Here are the highlights:


Post 1 – Punishing Swinging is Rare in this World

Li argues that it’s senseless to punish people for simple differences in taste:

If we say that a regular extra-marital affair should be criticised for transgressing the morality of marriage, then partner-swapping doesn’t even come up to the level of damage done by an extra-marital affair, because it is the result of discussion between a husband and wife. The nature of such an activity is similar to the nature of a husband and wife going to a restaurant to eat together; it’s just that some couples jointly decide that they want to have their dinner in private, that’s all. Their only difference to the general public is that whereas most people eat rice and noodles, they eat scorpion. Many people won’t eat scorpion themselves, and can’t bear to see others eating scorpion, but we can’t round up all the people with a certain taste and sentence them.

Then, as she often does, Li puts China’s sex laws into a global context, calling on the Chinese people to push for change:

This is the reason why no [other] country in the world has a law that penalises partner-swapping activities. […] Owing to rapid economic development, China’s global image is increasingly open, wealthy, civilised, the people are respected; but the penalisation of partner-swapping greatly discredits the image of our country, and makes it look like we are an undeveloped, barbarous country. Patriotic friends, we must rise up and protect the image of our country, and protect the rights of those accused.

Post 2 – Would Repealing Group Licentiousness Law Ruin the Atmosphere of Society?

In her second post, Li addresses the media storm surrounding the case, the scale of which she describes as having “far surpassed the case itself”. Li begins with a rejection of the use of the concept of ‘societal norms’ to determine criminal guilt:

In a criminal law case, it’s highly debatable whether or not societal norms can be used to maintain an argument, and be seen as an entity that has been harmed. If when societal norms are violated we maintain that the violator has caused injury and society has suffered, and extrapolate this logic, we create an aspect that cannot be taken back. For example, in China, most people will get married, and only a few percent will stay single their whole life. [Singles’] behaviour clearly violates societal norms, but we can’t string up all singles for this, so taking ‘societal norms’ to be a harmed entity is ridiculous.

She then argues that the law is outdated and its removal will cause no harm to society:

In reality, group licentiousness law punishes any sexual activity involving three or more people, just like the old hooliganism law punished any sex outside of wedlock. In 1997, the big change in Chinese law was the removal of the hooliganism law, and the crime of being a ‘counter-revolutionary’ was removed at the same time. My first reply to the worry that the removal of group licentiousness law will increase the number of sexual activity involving three or more people is: did the number of hooligans increase in ‘97 with the removal of hooligan law? Did the number of counter-revolutionaries increase with the removal of counter-revolutionary law? According to the logic of the worriers, should we reinstate hooliganism law and counter-revolutionary law?

The amount of sex [in society] is increasing, the number of people taking part in sexual activities is increasing, the number of sexual partners per person is increasing (in China, sexual partners per-person per-capita is the world’s second-highest), sexual practices are becoming more diverse, [but] this won’t ruin the atmosphere of society; it might alter the traditional cultural norms of society, [but] it will more likely increase the happiness index of those taking part in activities, and satisfy all kinds of desires, which at times may even be very peculiar, whilst at the same time causing no harm to others or society.

Post 3 – Inconceivable Criminals and Criminality

Li’s third post is a copy of an announcement letter she received from the Nanjing Qinhuai District court, and her reaction to it. It describes the court’s official position on the case:

Ma Xiaohai’s defence entered a plea of ‘not guilty’, believing that on the grounds that the group licentiousness law infringes on public order in society, and that the activities of Ma Xiaohai and others did not involve the exchange of currency, and were in private and closed off, and because they did not encroach upon public order protected by criminal law, the sexual meetings involved in this case should be considered in the category of private rights, and should not penalised by criminal law.

Except Ma Xiaohai, all 21 others accused pleaded guilty, and each of their advocates also entered ‘guilty’ pleas.

With regards to the assessment of punishment, the prosecution believes that punishment must be decided separately, based on the circumstances under which crime was committed: after committing the crime, some of the accused gave themselves up…and can be punished with lenience, but the first accused Ma Xiaohai has throughout proceedings lacked clear-headed acknowledgement of his criminal behaviour, and will be punished severely according to discretion.

A date is to be fixed for the pronouncement of sentencing.

Quoting a passage from a novel written by her deceased husband, Chinese writer Wang Xiaobo, Li reflects on how the letter from the court left her in disbelief:

I remember when Xiaobo was alive, we were discussing how in China, writing fiction doesn’t really require much imagination; with many things, just writing the truth can bring about drama, comedy and absurdity beyond the imagination of normal people. Xiaobo’s novels are still selling well today. Apart from the fact that they’re beautifully written, could it also possibly be that the absurdities that he satirised are still being relentlessly played out on China’s stage?

0 thoughts on “Li Yinhe: In Defence of Professor Ma Xiaohai”

  1. “The amount of sex [in society] is increasing, the number of people taking part in sexual activities is increasing, the number of sexual partners per person is increasing (in China, sexual partners per-person per-capita is the world’s second-highest)…”

    !! I wonder where she got this statistic?


  2. Indeed a citation would be nice! Stay tuned for our new post later today, where we take the issue of academic standards in China and talk about it until you can’t stand it anymore!


  3. Again, I find this woman really interesting. She’s giving some pretty heavy criticism of the government and its laws. Can you give me any indication of how she’s viewed by the government? Do people take her seriously, or is she painted as a kind of a crackpot, or…?


  4. Again, I find this woman really interesting. She’s giving some pretty heavy criticism of the government and its laws. Can you give me any indication of how she’s viewed by the government?

    The fact that people heavily criticizing the government surprise or interest you shows you still haven’t spent enough time in this country.

    Li stays mainly on social issues, or more accurately, topics concerning sex and sexual morality. And that’s fine. The government doesn’t see her as a threat cuz China is not a fanatic religious country. (It’s also true with economic issues. The most aggressive, open attacks against the authorities always happen in the realm of economy. Go attend some economic forums and conferences and you’ll see.)

    Intellectuals across the country are challenging the government everyday in areas from the environment, AIDS to calls for a ratings system of films. Li is only one of them.


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