When Wang Hong, in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, joined a wife-swapping club, he did not expect the local press and police to be interested as well.
He would normally get together with several others in a hotel, people he got to know and "tested" through the Internet. But when one of the new arrivals turned out to be a reporter on a secret investigative mission, it took them by surprise. And the bigger shock came when police showed up to arrest them.
The police were also astonished. They did not find anyone who was deceived into the swing club. As a matter of fact, all members were college educated and held enviable jobs.
More puzzling than that was how to deal with it. Should they charge these consenting adults with a legal offence, or should they stand trial in a moral court?
Li Mingshun, secretary general of China Marriage and Family Law Association, argued that this is an illegal act because it is forbidden by China's marriage law, yet it is not a crime. It violates the principle of a monogamous relationship where husband and wife should respect and be loyal to each other, he insisted. Even if all parties to wife-swapping are consensual, it is still a violation.
Swing clubs are conspicuous in China because they are so rare. According to one survey, the Chinese are among the most loyal in marriage, with 70 per cent having only one sexual partner.
However, there are people who defend the practice of wife swapping as a better alternative to patronizing prostitutes. Many of the arrested or uncovered also said that they were simply trying to "spice up" their bored family lives with something stimulating yet safe, or rather, safer than what others do.
Most of the reported incidents happened in big cities, where people invariably blame bad influences such as pornography as the inspiration.
When two husbands in the mountainous Guizhou Province attempted it, without consulting their wives first, one of the wives protested and reported the fact to the authorities. The husbands were sentenced to 2-3 years for rape.
Zhu Jianjun, a psychology professor in Beijing, said that "swinging" is the aftermath of long-time repression. In a society where people have been repressed sexually, any relaxing in social mores would lead a few people to another extreme. As long as they do not hurt others, "we should ignore it", he said, because eventually the pendulum will swing back to normal.
Jia Xiaoming, another Beijing psychologist, asserted that wife-swapping comes from an abnormal mentality and a mind of chaos. Marriage provides a sense of security, but "swinging" destroys this security, he said.
"You may have a moral stand against it, but there is no money exchanged. It is just an experiment of another lifestyle. It's part of one's privacy," said several interviewees who all declined to be named. "You can morally judge it, but you cannot legally charge it."
Meanwhile, Wang Hong and his club members are still in custody. "I've been in service for 30 years but I've never seen something like this," said a Shenyang policeman. "You can change partners in a ballroom, but I've never heard that you can also do that in a bedroom." (China Daily HK Edition)