The Basis of Morality
in China - Nanjing Professor Jailed for Sex Parties
April 8, 2010
My contract here says that I
must not promote religion, or engage in political activity, so I try to
avoid discussions of these topics in my classes. But I do see my
job, in part, to be promoting an understanding of Western culture and
thought. I've also come to see my students as a great resource for
gaining an insight into contemporary Chinese culture and thinking.
Instead of just telling them what I think, and what most people in my
culture think, I've been actively investigating what they think.
The results have often been surprising.
of hands - the professor deserves jail time.
charges should be dropped..
Back in March, a famous Chinese sociologist,
Li Yinhe, caused a flap by suggesting that China's law against
"practicing and organizing orgies" was outdated and should be scrapped.
At the time nobody had been charged with this offence for over two
decades. Just a few weeks later, as if to make a point,
the police arrested a 55 year old Nanjing
professor, Ma Yaochun,and charged him with this "crime".
As I understand it, Ma Yaochun didn't organize
anything, and didn't even realize that he was committing a crime until
he was arrested. He was just a guy in an unhappy marriage who
wandered into Internet dating sites, discovered the swinger community,
and began to participate in a more liberated sexual lifestyle.
Everything was consensual. Everything was between adults.
We're talking about wife swapping and swinger parties, activities that
would attract no official attention in the West. But the professor is
now facing a possible five year jail term.
Some countries have moral codes that are very
hard for Western liberals to comprehend. Islamic fundamentalists
take young athletes off a bus and execute them for the crime of wearing
shorts. A school teacher is jailed for allowing a student to name
his Teddy bear Mohamed, and protesters gather outside the prison to
demand her death. Recently in Dubai, a foreign couple was jailed
for kissing in public. The people behind these events don't think
of themselves as bad people. In fact, they think we are the bad
people. They are trying to enforce their morality. But their
morality is based on something very different from mine - the authority
of their religious leaders, holy book, and religious beliefs.
Many religious people believe that morality must come
from a belief in God, or an authority such as the Bible or the Qur'an.
But obviously this is not the only source of morality. In
Richmond, British Columbia, serious violence broke out in the Sikh
community over the question of whether to have chairs in their temple.
A few years earlier, a Sikh father sent his daughter a kettle full of
dynamite as a wedding present, because she refused the marriage he had
arranged and married without his approval. Their morality appears
to be based more on tradition.
Humanists base their morality on concepts such as the
greatest good for the greatest number, or equality of all people, or
reverence for human life and human wellbeing. They might argue
that if a practice does no harm, does not involve coercion, and only
affects practitioners who are consenting adults, then nobody has a right
Last week I decided to find out what my students think
is the basis for their morality. Interestingly, one of the first
answers I got to the questions was "patriotism".
also thought I'd find out what my students think about the Nanjing
professor who is facing a five year jail term for his swinging
lifestyle, so I put it to a vote. The question: should the
professor go to jail or not? The result in the first class I
asked: 24 to 1 in favour of jail. Other classes, such as the class
results on the blackboard above, were more... tolerant. But still
every class voted a majority for jail time.
I put the same question to my News Reading for
Non-English Majors class. They are not freshmen, like my oral
English students, and maybe they are a bit more sophisticated or
worldly. But still over half the class voted to jail the
It's easy to assume that these sweet and agreeable young
people think the way we do. They don't. Most are comfortable
with a government in a parental role, taking complete responsibility for
all social decisions, and most take it as the right of the majority to
tell people how to behave both in public and in private. Most
believe it is correct to jail a consenting adult who gives consent too
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