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    Gay Erotica Writer’s ‘Severe’ Prison Sentence Sparks Online Backlash

    The author of a gay romance novel has been given over 10 years in prison for producing and selling pornography.

    Chinese netizens are miffed after a court in eastern China’s Anhui province sentenced a novelist to over 10 years in prison for publishing and selling gay erotica, local outlet Wuhu News reported Friday.

    The writer — who is surnamed Liu and publishes under the pen name Tianyi — was given a 10-and-a-half-year prison term last month for “profiting from the production and sale of pornography.” Four other people were also given prison time for proofreading, typesetting, and printing Liu’s erotica. The author is seeking to appeal the case to the Wuhu Intermediate People’s Court.

    “Occupy,” the novel for which Liu was punished, delves into the fictional romance between a teacher and his male student. The 2017 book had sold over 7,000 copies online and generated around 150,000 yuan ($21,600) in revenue by the time its author was arrested last December.

    On microblogging platform Weibo, thousands of people questioned the court’s unduly harsh sentencing. “Tianyi just wrote erotica, yet this got her a more severe punishment than some rapists,” commented one user. According to China’s criminal law, rape is typically punished by prison sentences ranging from three to 10 years.

    The gay romance genre, known as danmei in Chinese, has secured a dedicated fan base in the country, with long-established popularity on various literature websites. This stands in stark contrast, however, to the government’s attitude toward homosexuality in media. Last year, China’s industry body for online broadcasting banned gay-themed content, and earlier this year, organizers of the Beijing International Film Festival canceled a screening of “Call Me by Your Name,” an Oscar-nominated gay romance.

    Those involved in producing gay-themed works have also been subject to investigation and arrest. In 2011, police in the central province of Henan arrested the founder of a danmei literature website and detained more than 10 writers who had signed contracts with the site.

    Police from Anhui arrested Liu at her residence in Jiangsu province last December, one month after a raid at an Anhui hotel where her books were being distributed. A police officer involved in the case told Wuhu News that “Occupy” bawdily depicts homosexual acts between men in graphic detail and is filled with sexual violence, abuse, and insults.

    Pornography is illegal in China under the nation’s criminal law, which bans the production and dissemination of obscene materials. Recently, the country’s anti-pornography office has been on a mission to “clean the web” of content deemed offensive, shutting down thousands of websites and arresting several people linked to them. In 2015, the well-known online novelist Ding Yi was sentenced to three and a half years’ probation for three books ruled “pornographic and obscene.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: A screenshot shows a depiction of two characters from the online novel ‘Occupy.’ Duoduo/Sixth Tone)