This story has more twists and turns than back-to-back American Bandstand and Soul Train classic rebroadcasts.

First there’s the risable “Sex and Shanghai” blog itself (foreigner writes about alleged sexual trysts with ex-students).

Then the indignant Chinese backlash (Chinese professor’s call to unmask and expel the author ‘Chinabounder’).

Then the ‘Sex and Shanghai’ blog goes limp, taken offline “except by invitation only.”

Yesterday I suggested my skepticism over Chinabounder being who he claimed, and necessarily doing what he claimed, or even being where he claimed (back home in Denver, I suggested, which a commentor further speculated to “pimple-faced geek in Denver”.)

And now, reported via Danwei.org, an AP story headlined “Chinese Internet users hunt author of racy blog, but alleged authors claim a hoax” takes this a step further:

…a person responding to an e-mail to a contact address on the site said the authors were a group of performance artists who had fabricated its content as an investigation into online vigilante behavior.

“We did not anticipate quite the level of anger this would raise,” said the message, which said the authors behind the cyber name “Chinabounder” included a British man, an Australian woman, two Chinese men and a Japanese woman.

Already being skeptical of whomever is behind ‘Sex and Shanghai’, I don’t know if I buy that this was started as “an investigation into online vigilante behavior.”

If it is a serious investigation, and not a mere attempt at juvenile provocation–like reports of a young foreigner scattering change at a Beijing bus stop hoping to get Chinese people to chase the coins like hungry beggars–then there had better be a formal publication of findings in the pipeline.

Otherwise, here are a few observations and predictions:

First, Chinabounder, or someone claiming to be Chinabounder, has posted comments on at least one other blog. I noticed them on this post at John Pasden’s Sinosplice from back in May. If Chinabounder has commented elsewhere, then John and the owners of those other blogs could compare notes and report back to us whether Chinabounder’s posting IP is in Shanghai or not. (Or in Denver, perhaps.)

Second, Chinabounder is obviously in touch with the China Blog-osphere. He (or they) were reading Pasden’s Sinosplice Life blog at least as far back as May, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Chinabounder (or at least one of the “performance artists”) has posted there before under a different name.

Third–this enters further into the realm of pure speculation–I have noticed echoes of Chinabounder’s criticisms of China on other blogs under different user names. Chinabounder’s blog is offline now and I can’t find the exact reference, but one day I read a Chinabounder gripe about China that used many of the exact same phrases used by someone who comments regularly at Richard TPD’s blog. I’m not going to say who that poster is, and though it’s possible, I don’t mean to imply that they’re necessarily the same person, only that this “performance artist” group has perhaps sometimes “borrowed” from commentators elsewhere to create the fictional Chinabounder’s rants.

But my overall hunch at this point: Someone knows. Someone in the China Blog-osphere not currently known to be associated with this whole ‘Sex and Shanghai’ thing knows. I am by no means suggesting it’s John Pasden or Richard TPD just because I’ve mentioned their blogs in this post, but Someone Established in This China-Blogosphere Knows. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a blog author we know by a different name, maybe it’s someone who overheard something at the Shanghaiist 80’s Happy Hour. Who knows. Could be anyone.

But someone knows and isn’t telling.

And with a virtual lynch mob at the IP gate, that is perhaps not a bad thing.

Because if there’s anything Chinese hate worse than reading about some of their “wayward girls” doing the nasty with “ugly foreigners,” it’s being baited by foreigners who are trying to elicit their “arrogant” and vitriolic responses in order to ridicule them.

Related: ‘Sex and Shanghai’ Backlash in Machine Translation