“The Politics of a Chinese Orgy”

Evan Osnos has an article up about the unspeakably hilarious orgy scandal that rocked Weibo last week:

Orgies are back in the news in Beijing, but this time it’s the Communist Party that has found itself in an uncomfortable position, and it is now praising the virtues of privacy. A leaked batch of photos swept across the Chinese internet this month, depicting a festive gathering of five, arrayed in various numerical combinations. Of more than a hundred photos, the ones that attracted the most attention were not the most acrobatic; they were the group portraits in which participants posed for the camera so clearly that it was not long before they were identified by Chinese Web users and discovered to include several government officials.

It’s tough to spin an orgy. The local Party office in question first claimed that the images had been photoshopped; then they dropped that angle and said they were, instead, simply old pictures from elsewhere in China, unrelated to the county. But that explanation ran aground when one of the men—identified in state press reporters as Wang Yu, a deputy secretary of the Youth League Committee of Hefei University in Anhui province—while insisting that “the two other men are his friends, not government officials, conceded that “he regretted his behavior.” (The photos, it seems, were plucked from the computer of one of the participants after the machine was brought in for repair.) Another Party organ was not as contrite. “NAKED GUY IS NOT OUR PARTY CHIEF: LOCAL AUTHORITY” was the headline in the Global Times after the Communist Party committee in Lujiang county declared a case of mistaken identity in response to the suggestion that a bespectacled participant bears an extraordinary resemblance to Wang Minsheng, the local Party secretary.

At bottom, the sex party is vexing for the Party because it highlights the gap between the artifice of official solemnity and the unadorned reality beneath, a gap that has become more pronounced in recent years as the Web eats away at the monopoly on authority. The downfall of Bo Xilai is of interest to the Chinese public not simply because it involves murder, corruption, and betrayal but because it is unfolding noisily just offstage from where the Party is desperately seeking to convey the sense that everyone is proceeding according to plan. As the Global Times commented of the group shots, people “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.”

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