Eight contestants will fight to the chance to be crowned Mr Gay China when the country’s first gay pageant gets underway this week.

China only decriminalised homosexuality in 1997 and it was seen as a mental illness until 2001.

The pageant is being held by gay PR company Gayographic, which said the event would contribute to the development of the gay community and raise awareness.

It will include three performances, a fashion show, an auction and an underwear parade.

According to the company’s website, the finalists will be articulate, charming and confident. The winner will be an ambassador of goodwill and the “quintessential young man [who] is representative of China”.

As with most pageants, although beauty will be considered, judges will be looking for “character and personality”.

The country’s pageant will be the regional contest for the title of Mr Gay World Ambassador 2010, which will be held in Oslo, Norway.

Last month, a Chinese city of Dali, in the southwestern province of Yunnan, opened its first state-funded gay bar.

It will offer gay men a place to socialise, along with handing out safe sex advice in an attempt to combat HIV infections.

The opening night of the bar was due to take place on World AIDS Day, which is December 1st, but was delayed for three weeks after widespread media attention which volunteers felt could place them in danger.