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It’s official: The Chinese government is at war with adultery

A Chinese government propaganda billboard showing the slogan which reads "China Strong, China Forward!", is displayed near the building of China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters in Beijing, China Tuesday, July 15, 2014. AP Photo/Andy Wong

When Bo Xilai, the poster child for Chinese corruption and intrigue, was finally expelled from the Communist Party in September 2012, the official notice that listed his crimes contained an unusual reference to his personal life: Bo “had or maintained improper sexual relations with multiple women," the Communist Party explained.

Now, almost two years later, what that detail symbolized appears to be becoming official government policy. According to state newspaper China Daily, an anti-corruption watchdog is now leading the "fight on adultery" -- and Chinese officials and their mistresses should probably beware.

There's nothing illegal about adultery in China, but the Chinese government has been embarrassed in recent years by numerous public cases, and for many in the public, the practice has become synonymous with corruption. Few people were surprised when Chinese state media announced that the disgraced railways boss Liu Zhijun had 18 mistresses, "including actresses, nurses and train stewards," for example, and Chongqing Beibei District Party Secretary Lei Zhengfu's 13-year sentence for corruption was preceded by a sex tape that became a grim Internet sensation.

Now the crackdown is official. According to the China Daily report, Beijing's anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, has accused six senior officials of adultery since early June – another reporter from the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper estimates a total of ten officials have been suspended in the past month. On June 7, the CCDI announced that officials who commit adultery could be removed from their positions and kicked out of the Communist Party, as such behavior was not tolerated under the party's discipline codes. This marked a notable change in official rhetoric on extramarital affairs, which had previously been described as "living a degenerate lifestyle" or "moral corruption."

Exactly what the commission intends is unclear, however. The secretive agency has existed for decades in one form or another, but for the past year and a half it has been at the forefront of President Xi Jinping's high-profile war on corruption. Corruption is so widespread among officials in China that many perceive the crackdown to be politically motivated, as my colleague William Wan reported recently. The change in language may have been a deliberate attempt to influence public opinion.

"Officials accused of adultery would face moral condemnation from the public, since adultery is a much stronger accusation than 'morally degenerate,'" Peng Peng, a researcher at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, told the South China Morning Post.

But there may be some hope for the Chinese officials out there who don't want to give up their adulterous lifestyles. According to China Daily, an unnamed official has offered a clarification to a Chinese newspaper: For the commission, the term "adultery" refers only to those who have at least three mistresses.

Xu Jing contributed to this report.