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The Basis of Morality in China - Nanjing Professor Jailed for Sex Parties
originally posted 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.

Send the professor to jail.  We don't like people who engage in sex with multiple partners.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China Turn the Nanjing professor loose.  What consenting adults do in private is none of our business.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
A show of hands - the professor deserves jail time. The 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sociologist, Li Yinhe, caused a flap by suggesting that China's law against "practicing and organizing orgies" was outdated and should be scrapped.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 to interfere.    
     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".

The basis of morality in China discussion, and a vote on whether the Nanjing professor should go to jail for "organizing and participating in orgies".  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

     I 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 professor.
    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 liberally.

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