On April 7, Mr. Ma and 21 other members of his swingers’ circle were tried in the central city of Nanjing on group sex charges, in a case that is roiling society and provoking heated debates in academic circles, among friends and in the blogosphere. Prosecutors accuse the twice-divorced Mr. Ma, who has since been fired from his job as a professor at Nanjing University of Technology, of organizing and taking part in at least 18 group sex parties between 2007 and 2009. Fourteen were in his own home, four in hotels and the rest in unspecified locations, according to his lawyer, Xue Huogen.
No verdict has yet emerged from the two-day trial, during which Mr. Ma was the only defendant to plead not guilty.
“This case is having an enormous impact on society, so they are deliberating very carefully right now what to do about it,” Mr. Xue said.
Yet what Mr. Ma did isn’t all that unusual, sexologists here say. In 1978, when China began its bold, capitalist-style economic and social experiment known as Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, attitudes toward sex began changing fast, along with almost everything else.
In a sign of just how fast, Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted how members of a rare swingers’ group in the early 1980s were treated: one person was executed, another was sentenced to life in prison and a third was given 15 years. Today, by comparison, Ms. Li estimates that the biggest online group sex site, Happy Village, has 360,000 users alone.