China just sentenced an author to 10.5 years in prison for writing gay erotica.
The South China Morning Post reports that the author, known online as Tianyi, was sentenced for “producing and selling pornographic materials” after her 2017 novel, Occupy, sold over 7,000 copies online.
The novel, which covers an affair between a teacher and student, reportedly includes “graphic depictions of male homosexual sex scenes.”
But online commenters have pointed out that Tianyi’s prison sentence is longer than some convicted murderers and child rapists. Legal experts say the 1998 law that convicted Tianyi was created before internet book sales and over-estimates the social damage caused by porn.
Regardless, the sentencing is just the latest example of China’s discomfort with homosexuality.
While homosexuality in China is technically illegal, the Chinese government has still harassed and imprisoned LGBTQ activists. The country allows so-called ex-gay conversion therapy, uses anti-gay school textbooks and has banned LGBTQ TV and web content, comparing it with incest and sexual abuse.
This isn’t surprising considering that only 21% of the Chinese population supports homosexuality. Anywhere from 22% to 95% of gay Chinese people stay closeted (and many end up marrying straight women). All of this hides the existence of gay Chinese citizens from the larger populace.
Unlike American homophobia, Chinese homophobia isn’t due to conservative religious values. Rather, it comes from the social expectation that children should wed and birth children to help care for elderly grandparents.
Similarly, the government’s opposition to LGBTQ rights stems more from its hostility towards any social protests and non-government organizations rather than a specific dislike of homosexuality. The government’s approach to LGBTQ issues and groups has been summarized as “don’t encourage, don’t discourage, don’t promote.”
But there are also signs of change in Chinese society. In 2017, Chinese citizens successfully reversed a social network’s proposed ban of LGBTQ posts. This fall, some LGBTQ activists have petitioned the government to allow same-sex marriage and a teacher fired for being gay has challenged his dismissal in court.