With sweltering heat taking over the country, three couples decided to gather in a hotel room for some steamy fun. The experience may have left them sweating but the photos they took left many hot under the collar.
Earlier this month, some 120 photos of their group sex were leaked online, with some netizens quickly claiming two of the men in the pictures were top officials in Lujiang county, Anhui Province.
The pictures soon went viral as hordes sought to catch a glimpse of the debauchery of these officials.
Finding yourself tied up
Wang Minsheng, the Party secretary of Lujiang county who is accused of being the organizer of these wife swap sessions, fervently denied the claims on Thursday. He said the pictures were not real and some people attempted to slander him and other officials. Wang told People's Daily Online that he suspected the matter was related to a corruption case the county was handling at the moment.
However, Many netizens choose to believe another story. They feel that this is but scratching the surface of the lives of luxury and sin that many officials secretly enjoy. Such activities are being pointed to as evidence for the decaying morality of government officials.
Nevertheless, these accusations have not been shared by sexologists and activists, who say that officials have a right to protect their privacy.
"What they choose to do in private is their own business," Fang Gang, a sexologist at Beijing Forestry University, told the Global Times.
Regardless of the actual identity of these particular swingers, Fang believes that any grudges that members of the public might hold against officials should not be aired in such ways. The issue of privacy in China is developing along its own lines, and should not be confused with holding officials to account on alleged accusations of corruption.
Some Internet users poked fun but defended the officials by saying that at least they are having fun with their own wives and money, instead of raising several mistresses with public funds.
There has long been a price to pay for swinger parties. Back in 2010, a college associate professor Ma Yaohai was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for organizing group sex parties.
The 55-year-old professor reportedly organized and participated in group sex sessions 18 times from 2007 to 2009. Twenty-two people were accused of being in breach of the group licentiousness law for participating in "wife-swapping" activities.
The case attracted plenty of attention from the media and discussions abounded as to whether these actions should really be illegal.
Defending Ma, outspoken sexologist Li Yinhe published three blog posts and called for support and understanding toward such tendencies.
"It's worth reminding everyone: Just as eating food isn't fundamentally harmful to people, neither is sexual activity fundamentally harmful to people," she wrote.
"As long as such activities don't harm anyone else, one absolutely has the right to participate in them. This right should not be stripped away in the name of protecting thinly-veiled morality or conventions," she continued.
Get into the swing of it
That was the first time many Chinese people had encountered the term "group licentiousness." Now the set of nude pictures has brought the topic back under the spotlight.
Sexologist Fang said the law that forbids all sexual activities between three or more people, even when done so privately and between consenting adults, should be abolished.
"What kind of fun people are having behind closed doors is none of other people's business. Both society and the law should not interfere," he said.
The police are now searching for the people who spread the rumors and uploaded the pictures.
One Internet user published an online statement apologizing to Wang, saying he saw the photos online and thought a man in the photo looked liked the Lujiang Party chief. He said he did not realize the serious consequences of such actions and asked for Wang's forgiveness.
Even though the men in the pictures are in the process of being formally identified and the pictures were reportedly taken back in 2007, many Internet users blamed and pressured the "shameless officials" to confess.
Some even said that ordinary people should be allowed to have swinger parties but not government officials.
Some admitted that if the pictures had not grouped under the title of "Officials' Group Sex," they would not have gone viral so quickly.
"The photos should be titled 'three couples from Kunming have group sex', it has nothing to do with our officials," said a statement from Weibo of the Lujiang government.
It also said that those behind the smear campaign would be held legally responsible. Soon after the photos went viral, the county's official website was reportedly hacked.
"There is a simmering hatred for officials, and some undisciplined officials have obviously undermined the image of the whole group," Ren Jianming, a professor with the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.
How to maintain a positive image is a problem facing every government official. The impressions that come across of government officials in State-owned media are always well-polished; either seriously discussing public affairs with cadres or paying visits to ordinary people.
"Government officials are also human, they have their hobbies and shortcomings. It will make them more comfortable if they can act like ordinary people," said Yang Yuze, a news commentator.
However, it seems that Internet users do not want officials to be perceived as being akin to common mortals. They regularly show a great interest in burrowing away at government officials' privacy.
Han Feng, a former tobacco official from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, whose purported sex diary was posted on the Internet, has asked the local police to arrest whoever was responsible for the leak and charge them with an invasion of privacy, the Xinhua News Agency reported in 2010.
The diary, written in graphic detail, included boasts by Han of enjoying sex games with different women. When it surfaced, he was immediately suspended.
Back in 2008, far more serious video footage emerged of a Chinese official's drunken attempt to force himself on an 11-year-old girl. It immediately triggered a police investigation and a torrent of online criticism. The man who later identified as Lin Jiaxiang, Party secretary of the Shenzhen maritime bureau, lost his job.
Even though he was caught on camera, the police did not charge Lin with any crime. Investigators said it appeared as though he was holding the girl lightly by the nape of the neck, and that she wriggled away easily from his grasp.
"This is the price you pay as a public figure," Jiao Xinsheng, a professor at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, told the Global Times.
"The majority of government officials are well-behaved, but there is a small amount of black sheep," he continued.
Many government officials find themselves vulnerable when faced with this situation. About 70 percent of 6,243 respondents, including 300 officials, said they thought Chinese officials were afraid of the Internet, according to a survey conducted by People's Daily Online in 2010.
When asked what worries them the most about the Web, the 300 officials said they worried online exposure might have a negative influence on their career.
The survey found out that the higher the position they held, the more they worried about Internet exposure. Some 28 percent said they are worried about details of their private lives being leaked.
"Some people take advantage, intentionally spread rumors and cause harm to officials. When this happens, these officials can do nothing but keep silent," Lu Caiming, from the Organization Department of Taizhou municipal Party committee, Jiangsu Province, told the People's Daily.
However, about 88 percent of respondents said this fear of Internet exposure was "a good thing" and meant "society is making progress."
"An official being afraid of the Internet is no bad thing," Zhang Bin, deputy director of the general office of the Gansu provincial Party committee, was quoted as saying.
"It helps them focus on serving the people and behave themselves," Zhang said.
About 58 percent of respondents agreed that if technology is not properly regulated, it can destroy reputations and violate privacy.
One official from Shandong Province, speaking anonymously, suggested that instead of using their connections or paying people off to make rumors go away, officials should go to court to defend themselves.
Professor Jiao said those running websites on which rumors spread should also be held to account if they do not move to stop such slander.
Even scarier than simple Internet exposure is the practice of "human flesh search engines," a tool used by outraged netizens to hunt down and identify individuals for public humiliation.
However, it seems that only a minority of those seeking the pictures are trying to actively identify the swingers. Most just want to have a peek.
A human flesh search engine turned up the identity of one of the three men in the picture, naming him as Wang Yu, deputy secretary of the Youth League Committee of Hefei University in Anhui.
Wang admitted to Tencent Weibo that the two other men are his friends, not government officials and that he regretted his behavior, the Beijing Times reported on Saturday.
It is believed that the photos were taken from a teacher's computer after she sent it away to be fixed.