A Chinese novelist has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for writing books containing explicit descriptions of gay male sex, state-run media said. File picture: Reuters/Bobby Yip

Beijing, China - A female Chinese novelist has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for writing and distributing books containing explicit descriptions of gay male sex, state-run media said Monday, a punishment that drew criticism for its severity.

The author, who goes by the pen name "Tianyi", attracted the scrutiny of authorities after one of her homoerotic novels, "Gongzhan", went viral last year, according to the Global Times tabloid.

The book detailed the sexual relationship between a teacher and his male student.

Tianyi also distributed 7 000 "pornographic" books, most related to homosexuality, which garnered "illegal profits" of 150 000 yuan (about R300 000), according to Wuhu city police cited by The Global Times.

She has filed an appeal, according to local media.

Tianyi's sentencing in eastern Anhui province on October 31 has drawn a wave of criticism on Twitter-like Weibo, where many people noted that the punishment was treated like other crimes such as rape.

According to Chinese criminal law, rapists are charged with three to 10 year prison sentences. 

"We don't deny her crime -- it's just that we don't accept this kind of unreasonable judgement," wrote one Weibo user, whose post garnered more than 5 000 likes and 1 000 reposts. 

Homoerotic novels are not uncommon in China and are easily accessible via different websites, but those who earn 50 000 yuan (R100 000) or more in producing or disseminating "obscene" material are subject to Chinese criminal law.

Gay romance stories are popular in China too -- in fact, there is a term in Chinese for women who are fans of gay love stories, or "funu".

But in recent weeks, Beijing has cracked down on "illegal" publications, a broadly defined category that includes pornography, as well as work that "endangers national unity" and "disturbs social order".

Last week, government regulators increased the amount of cash rewards Chinese citizens can earn for reporting "illegal" publications to authorities -- an upper limit of 600 000 yuan (R1.2 million).

The Cyberspace Administration of China said last Monday it had "cleaned up" 9 800 accounts on Chinese social media platforms which it accused of spreading "politically harmful" information and rumours.

Gay-themed films struggle to make it into movie theatres, same-sex relationships are banned from television screens and gay content is forbidden on online streaming platforms.

China classified homosexuality as a crime until 1997 and a mental illness until 2001, but conservative attitudes and discrimination remain widespread.

AFP