A gay Chinese student activist is taking legal action against the Ministry of Education over school textbooks describing homosexuality as a mental disorder.

It is not illegal to be gay in China and these days many large Chinese cities have thriving gay scenes, though there is still a lot of family pressure to get married and have children, even for gay men and women.

Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder until 2001.

However, Chinese universities continue to use textbooks that contain terms such as "disorder" and "impediment" to refer to homosexuality, research the Gay and Lesbian Campus Association of China carried out in 2014 found.

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Qiu Bai, 21 and a media studies student at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, raised the issue and lodged legal cases with the Ministry of Education last year, as well as with publishers of the textbooks. But her complaints were ignored and her applications were rejected.

A promise by the Ministry of Education to deal with her case through its internal mediation process in return for dropping one of the lawsuits also failed to materialise, Qiu said.

The Ministry of Education did not send a lawyer to Monday's hearing, and representatives declined to answer reporters' questions. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

- AAP