NEW YORK—The sentencing of novelist Tianyi to ten years imprisonment for the depiction of gay sex scenes in her newest novel is a patent and outrageous violation of the freedom to write, PEN America said today.

On October 31, in China’s eastern Anhui province, the writer “Tianyi” (a pseudonym) was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for “producing and selling pornographic material.” The charge is related to Tianyi’s novel Occupy, which Tianyi self-published and sold, which reportedly tells the story of a “forbidden love affair” between two men. Chinese state media have described the book as containing “perverted sexual acts like violence and abuse,” and state officials have referenced the books reported “graphic depictions of male homosexual sex scenes.” The sale of pornography is illegal in China. While homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, state censors still often impose prohibitions against depiction of LGBT characters or same-sex relationships. Despite this, the genre of homoerotic fiction in China, a genre often referred to as “boy’s love” or “danmei”, is increasingly popular.

Tianyi’s sentence is reportedly connected to the fact that Tianyi sold several thousand copies of her book. China’s Supreme Court has held that the sale of more than 5,000 copies of a pornographic book constitutes an “especially serious circumstance.” Other Chinese laws that affect publication—such as China’s criminal defamation statute-have similarly been interpreted to carry especially harsh penalties if the published material is especially popular.

“This sentence is clearly outrageous,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Ten years’ imprisonment for the ‘crime’ of writing and self-publishing a book that dares to describe homosexual sex is an obvious and unjustifiable infringement on the freedom to write and the freedom to publish. Furthermore, this draconian sentence sends a loud and threatening message to any other writer who is interested in writing about LGBT relationships. We call upon the authorities in Anhui to recognize the implications of this case for Chinese citizens’ freedom of expression, to throw out this sentence and to overturn Tianyi’s conviction.”

PEN America’s work on publishing and literary expression in China includes its November 2016 report Writing on the Wall, on Chinese security forces’ abduction of five Hong Kong-based booksellers; and its May 2015 report Censorship and Conscience, on the censorship of Chinese translations of books written by foreign authors.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]