HOMOSEXUALS IN CHINA
It is estimated that gay men and women constitute between 1 and 5 percent of the Chinese population, which means there could be as many 60 million homosexuals in China. According to estimates by Zhang Beichuan, an expert on homosexuality and AIDS at Qingdao University, there are 30 million homosexuals in China, with 20 million of them gay men and the remainder lesbians. [Source: China Daily]
Until 2001, homosexuality was classified in China as a mental illness. Today, although not illegal — it was decriminalized in 1997 — it is also not encouraged by the authorities. (In 2010, the inaugural Mr. Gay China pageant was shut by police an hour before it was due to start.) Despite this, large cities like Beijing have gay nightclubs and active gay public figures.
China has a history of being tolerant to homosexuality. Confucianism doesn’t condemn homosexuality as some religions do. Homosexuality has been documented in China since ancient times. In the Song dynasty it was considered fashionable for both men and women. Several emperors reportedly kept male consorts. Homosexuality was common enough in the 19th century for a English emissary to remark that “many of the first officers of the state seemed to make no hesitation in publicly avowing it.” In the 20th century the renowned scholar Kang Youwei proposed same sex marriages. See Han Dynasty Emperor Ai.
Some have suggested that maybe Cao Xueqin, the 18th century novelist and author of Dream of the Red Chamber , arguably China's most famous book, might have been gay. The book details a number of sexual trysts involving members of both the opposite sex and the same sex. Most of the hundreds of characters in the novel are women, delicately sketched with details so sensitive that, in the opinion of some, only a man of homosexual orientation could fathom. In A Dream of Red Mansions, there is only one man who is seriously into women, and he is a clown and bully.
The hints of homosexuality in other famous works of literature. In Romance of Three Kingdoms, men would never give up their ‘brothers’ but don't seem to care that much about their wives. In Outlaws of the Marsh, the heroes go one step further: they kill their adulterous wives, concubines or beaus and escape to this mountain retreat where everything looks like a martial arts version of a gay resort. [Source: China Daily, Raymond Zhou, July 12, 2008]
Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China (2008), directed by Cui Zi’en, China’s most prolific queer filmmaker, presents a comprehensive historical account of the queer movement in modern China. Unlike any before, this film explores the historical milestones and ongoing advocacy efforts of the Chinese lesbian and gay community. A Shanghai Timeout Review of Cui Zi’en’s Zhi Tongzhi (“Queer China, Comrade China”) goes: Espousing a more traditional form, and dividing the film in seven chapters, Cui covers incredible ground in a relatively short amount of time (60 minutes). Fact-filled, yet fun-filled, Cui’s film pays homage to all the tongzhi warriors, male or female, prominent or unknown, who are bringing about what Li (Yinhe) describes as a major sexual revolution. [Source: dgeneratefilms.com, December 2011]
Homosexuality in China Purple Dragon gay travel specialists Purple Dragon ; China Daily article chinadaily.com ; National Institute of Health paper /gateway.nlm.nih.gov ; Articles from the 1990s brooklyn.cuny.edu ; Some Sources on gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall ; Gay in Rural China sfgate.com ; Gay Scene in Shanghai shanghai-guy.com
Sex in China USA Today piece usatoday.com ; China Sex Museum hu-berlin.de/sexology ; Sex Incidents in China zonaeuropa.com ; Sex Industry guardian.co.uk ; Chinese sex toy maker lacyshaki.en ; Books: Sexual Life of Ancient China , written by Robert van Gulik in the 1920s; The Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Sex History by Professor Liu Dalin and Sex China Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture by Fang-ju Juan’. The Sexology Research Institute of China is at People's University in Beijing. Sex History and Literature Ancient Sex Culture China.org ; Chinese Sex Literature yellowbridge.com ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review dannyreviews.com Prostitution in China : China Law blog chinalawblog.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Prostitution warning gochina.about.com
Links in this Website: SEX IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SEX AND HISTORY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PROSTITUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HOMOSEXUALS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MARRIAGE, LOVE AND DATING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONCUBINES AND DIVORCE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Views About Homosexuality in China
Queer China Homosexuality is still largely a taboo subject for discussion in China. Very few Chinese gays inform their parents and often bad things happen when and if they do. When one man revealed to his family that he was gay, his parents worried about who would take care of him in old age if he didn't father any children. If the parents do known they want their children to be discreet. Having an openly gay child is a real embarrassment.
According to one Hong Kong survey, 79 percent of the people asked said they believed that homosexuality was a condition that could be changed. Many homosexuals share this view. One gay man told the New York Times, "I think I'm missing a gland or something in my brain. I read in the newspaper that homosexuals are the same as everybody else except we are missing some gland."
Homosexuality was regarded as a mental disorder by the Chinese Psychiatric Association until fairly recently. Some gays who were taken to doctors by their parents have been given epilepsy medicine, which often has terrible side effects. In extreme cases gays have been sent to doctors for electric shock "treatments" that have left some impotent.
Gays in rural areas often discover their sexual identity and find partners without really realizing what they are doing and what it is called. "They just did it," reported outspoken gay writer Wu Chunsheng in his book Dark Souls Under the Red Sun.
A passage from the Chinese university textbook Survey of Britain and America (1994) reads: "Homosexuality is...widely spread. One reason for this may be despair in marriage or love affairs. Some people fail in marriage and become disappointed with it so they decide no longer to love the opposite sex, but instead begin to love a person of the same sex...Another reason may be that some people want to find and do something 'new' and 'curious.'...Through this we can see clearly the spiritual hollowness of these people and distortion of the social order.”
Transvestite shows are popular with Chinese tourist visiting Thailand—so much so in fact some Thai transvestites have been invited to perform in Chinese tourist spots.
Openness About Homosexuality in China
The term "comrade" (tongzhi) doesn't necessarily refer to a loyal Communist anymore. These days it often refers to a gay person. The "comrade hotline,” for example, assists the gay and lesbian community. These days there are gay support groups and websites helping people to explore their sexuality and meet potential partners. There are gay venues in most major cities; last year, the first government-backed bar opened in Kunming, in south-western Yunnan.[Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]
For many, the biggest issue is invisibility. ‘People want to stay out of trouble so they stay away from anything different ... It's not necessarily that they're afraid of it or think it's bad. They just don't want to know,’ a gat man told The Guardian, adding that a handful of friends cut him off after finding out that he was gay. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]
There is some degree of acceptance and tolerance. There is no religious condemnation and that anti-gay violence is rare. Research in cities by Li Yinghe, an academic at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggests about 91 percent of people are happy to work with gay colleagues - a higher rate than in US surveys - and that 30 percent back gay marriage. [Source: The Guardian]
Gay Activism and Discrimination in China
There is still no legal protection against discrimination in China and few role models: no mainstream figures are openly gay. Official tolerance is highly variable. Activists and grassroots organizers complain of harassment by the authorities. Despite signs of growing confidence in challenging such actions — in 2009, gay men faced down police conducting a sweep of a Guangzhou park — most opt for a non-confrontational approach. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, ‘Official tolerance has its limits. Gay publications and plays are banned, gay Web sites are occasionally blocked and those who try to advocate for greater legal protections for lesbians and gay men sometimes face harassment from the police. For years, movie buffs in Beijing have tried, and failed, to get permission for a gay film festival... China has issued a directive requiring that all new computers include filtering software to block pornographic images as well as Web sites with words like gay, lesbian and homosexuality.’ Activists ‘fear the new rules could effectively ban online information from AIDS organizations or groups that help young people grapple with their sexual orientation.
A survey of 1,259 homosexual by Zhang Beichuan, an expert on homosexuality and AIDS at Qingdao University, found that 8.7 percent of gay men had been fired or forced to resign from their jobs after revealing the sexual preference and 4.7 percent said they felt their salary and career advancement were affected by their sexual preference. About 62 percent said they keep their sexual orientation secret in the workplace.
In June 2009, public security officials forced Wan Yanhai, a prominent advocate on gay issues, including AIDS, to leave Beijing for a week because they feared he might cause trouble during the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Sometimes I feel like we are playing a complicated game with the government, Wan said. No one knows where the line is, but we just keep pushing.
Persecution of Gays in China
It is not a crime to be gay in China but homosexuality is regarded as disgusting and decadent. Even though more and more gays are coming out in China they still risk persecution by authorities and many cases their own families. Gays in China are more concerned about getting fired, humiliated or blackmailed once their true identity is known than they are about AIDS.
Gays complain they are harassed, detained for no reason, and beat up by police. Police in one district reportedly pressured gays into pitching in $365 a piece to buy a new squad car. Gays are often rounded up and charged as "hooligans" or for disturbing the peace. In Tianjin gays have been declared a public nuisance along with street-walking prostitutes and the government has promised to clean them up.
The award winning film Farewell My Concubine was banned in China, in part because it depicted homosexual love.
Stigma to Being Gay in China
Is there still a stigma attached to being gay? Marcho said, “There are still lots of people who are gay, but who can not be gay – they even get married. They get pressure from the outside world and they think that it's not normal; that “men were born to be with girls, and girls are meant to be with boys." Some people still think, even though they're gay, that it's not right, it's not natural, it's against nature. Do you think that homosexuality is generally accepted in China? " [Source: Rabio 86, FutuVision Media Pinninkatu 55 FIN-33100 Tampere Finland]
Many Chinese still find it difficult to accept homosexuality. No, no. I think there's only a small percentage of people who can accept it, but most people still can not. I still ask some people that I have just met, “What do you think of me being gay?” or maybe it's a girl who has feelings for me and I'd be like, “Look, I'm gay.” Most people, say 70 or 80 per cent, can not accept it, they're just like, “No! It's wrong!” People don't really give you a hard time. They are shy about it. They don't say, “Oh, faggot!” Are you totally open about your sexuality? Everyone I work with knows I'm gay. It's not that I tell everyone about it, but I think it's the same everywhere, like if you go on business to a meeting, you don't have to say, “Hey! I'm the manager and I'm gay!” Right? So most people know. All my friends know I'm gay.
Toleration of Gays in China
There is no law against same-sex acts between consenting adults.In the 1980s, the Chinese Supreme Court took laws off the books that prohibited anal sex between consenting male adults. Two lesbians who were arrested by police in the Anhui province were later released under orders from the Public Security Ministry because they had not committed any crime.
In 1992, authorities allowed books about gay life to be published. They also permitted a gay activist to set up an AIDS telephone hotline but it was forced to close down a year later after the gay activist began speaking out about homosexual rights.
Laws decriminalizing homosexuality were enacted in 1997. Homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses in 2001. In recent years homosexuality has become tolerated in some urban areas and gays are coming out in various ways in larger numbers. In Shanghai there is even an openly gay restaurant across the street from a police station. One 32-year-old gay man told the Washington Post, "No one bothers us anymore. As long as we're not disturbing anyone else, we can enjoy ourselves and the police will leave us alone."
In the early 2000s Fudan University in Shanghai began offering China’s first course in gay studies and a study by Zheijang University near Shanghai found that 60 percent of the people interviewed were tolerant of homosexuality. One sociologist told the New York Times, "People are busy, they're making money and they don’t care about your private life. Before people were idle and liked to tell you how to lead your life, but that's changed.”
There are several gay organizations in China. Gays reportedly are influential in the Beijing media and fashion scene. Coverage of gay life in Hong Kong and Taiwan sometimes makes its way to China, particularly southern China which picks up Hong Kong and Taiwan television channels. The coverage has exposed a relatively free gay life to ordinary Chinese and emboldened Chinese gays to be more assertive about their rights.
In June 2009, Shanghai hosted a Gay Pride Week, with drag shows, mock same-sex weddings and a “hot body” contest won by a six-foot Shanghai native with rippled abs and the nickname of Grant. While some events were shut down by authorities, others drew hundreds of spectators, One of the organizers of the event told the New York Times, “We realized that now is the right time.”
Still, Chinese policy towards the gay issue for the most part remains the "three nos": no approval, no disapproval, and no promotion.
Impact of Anderson Cooper’s Coming Out on China’s Closet Society
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “When Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchor, recently announced that he was gay, he apparently inspired a Chinese microblogger using the name Sun Yelin-Xiao Hei., Mr. Sun posted a call on Sina’s Weibo, or microblogging, site for Chinese homosexuals to come out en masse on December 12, 2012 — a day apparently picked for its neat number. If you read Chinese, you can read his exhortation here Mr. Cooper is fairly well-known among China’s more Westernized, educated elite, with Sina’s microblog site, the country’s biggest, recording over 38,000 posts mentioning him. Comments since his coming out have been overwhelmingly positive, if occasionally a little nonplussed. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 5, 2012]
“In China, very few homosexuals are “out,” or “chugui” (this translates as “come out closet.”) Familial and cultural pressures to be heterosexual, marry and produce an heir are simply too great. So Mr. Sun seemed to be inviting the world to dream: “If on 2012.12.12 all the homosexuals in China ‘chugui,’ ” he wrote enthusiastically, “what would life be like?” There’s little chance of finding out. If anything, the recent wave of casual, “I’m gay, so what” announcements by prominent Americans is underscoring a fast-widening gap in social attitudes between the United States and many other countries, including China. [Ibid]
“Just a dozen people have so far responded to Sun Yelin-Xiao Hei’s online call for a mass coming out. “Very cool! There’s strength in numbers!” posted one person using the name Yuecai Diancai wo dou ai. [Ibid]
Social Forces That Keep Gay Chinese from Coming Out
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “Zhang Beichuan, a leading researcher on homosexuality and a medical professor at Qingdao University, says China faces an epidemic of problems related to the nonacceptance of homosexuality, including AIDS transmission from gay men to their wives and unhappy marriages in which one partner is secretly gay. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 5, 2012]
“I really want to say something,” he told the New York Times. “China really needs help and encouragement from the progressive sectors of international society to solve these problems.” One particular area of concern, Mr. Zhang said, is the large number of Chinese women unwittingly married to gay men. (Due to traditional patriarchal attitudes that value a son’s offspring more than a daughter’s, it is somewhat easier for a woman to dodge marriage and reproduction. A gay woman may be less likely to marry against her will.)
Giving men the freedom to come out of the closet would solve the problem, said Mr. Zhang. In fact, the topic is widely debated here, but in unofficial media and in private. Sina’s Weibo records more than 4.5 million posts for “chugui.” Yet, in his role as counselor as well as researcher, Mr. Zhang said, “We don’t lightly recommend to people that they come out. It can have a tremendously damaging impact on their lives.” He cited examples in which parents threatened suicide or fell seriously ill, or the children were forced to flee home. [Ibid]
China's First Gay Pageant
China hoped to host it first first gay pageant in February 2010 in Beijing. The plan was for eight finalists to take to the stage of a Beijing nightclub, with winner — picked for his ability to represent gay issues as well as his skills, personality and looks — to go to Norway to participate on the finals of Worldwide Mr Gay. The event was to include a swimwear round, a question and answer session, a fashion show, a host in drag. and a talent section where contestants can show off their singing and dancing. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]
“We are intelligent, we're professionals, we're gorgeous — and we're gay,’ said contestant Emilio Liu, from Inner Mongolia. ‘I want the audience to know there are a whole bunch of people like us living in China. It's a wonderful life and it's not hidden any more.’ Despite this display of openness few of the participants were willing to give their full names and several complained about the stereotyping of gay men as weak or HIV-carriers. Strikingly, all are white collar workers and most have studied or worked abroad. “ [Ibid]
Contestant Jay Jia told Sky News: ‘When I left in 2002 you couldn’t even find a gay bar. That’s all changed now, at least in the big cities. But I still haven’t come out and I definitely haven’t told my employers or my workmates My parents don’t know and they are always trying to find girls for me to take out.
Organizers hope to avoid problems by keeping Mr Gay China low-key and did not invite mainstream Chinese-language media. ‘Officials could show up and say 'your fire hydrant is in the wrong place,’ one organizer said. ‘It is still a sensitive issue.’ He also acknowledged that one of points of the contest was to draw attention to gay life: ‘If this gets seen by some country boy in Ningxia, maybe he will realize 'It's not horrible to be gay and I'm not alone.'’ [Branigan, Op. Cit]
In the end Gay China was canceled. According to AP, authorities said there’s nothing wrong the content, meaning homosexuality, rather the contest was shut down because procedures weren’t followed. After the cancellation, contestants and organizers quietly selected Xiao Dai, a 25-year-old Muslim man, to represent China inOslo, where he was the third runner-up in the Worldwide Gay pageant. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 17, 2010]
Shanghai Gay Pride Week
In June 2009, Shanghai hosted a Gay Pride Week. The China Daily called it of ‘profound significance for the country and the world’ and splashed a story about it on its front page. There was supposed to be a parade but in the end that was canceled. There were private films showing and social gatherings. But even those proved to be too much in some cases. Some of the film showings were cancelled due to lack of proper permits. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, June 14, 2009]
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, ‘It was shortly after the hot body contest and just before a painted procession of Chinese opera singers took the stage that the police threatened to shut down China’s first gay pride festival. The authorities had already forced the cancellation of a play, a film screening and a social mixer, so when an irritated plainclothes officer arrived at the Saturday afternoon gala and flashed his badge, organizers feared the worst.” [Ibid]
“During three months of planning, organizers had a rough idea of the limitations: no Chinese-language advertisements, no banners, no parades... Despite the careful planning, there were some disappointments... A staging of The Laramie Project, a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was canceled after the police interrupted a rehearsal to write down the names of the actors. As word of the crackdown spread, performers canceled their appearances and bar owners apologetically told Shanghai Pride to go elsewhere.” [Ibid]
“By Saturday, any lingering anxiety had seemingly evaporated as hundreds of people crammed into a bar to watch lip-synching divas and a silent auction to benefit AIDS orphans. At one table, a woman painted hearts and rainbows on the faces of Westerners and Chinese revelers...The celebrants were self-assured, unapologetically gay and mostly under 30. There was Gu An, a 19-year-old economics student who shares a dorm room at Shanghai University with his high school sweetheart, and Wang Liang, a 27-year-old furniture designer who might have been the only person to bring his mother.” [Ibid]
“Curing” Homosexuality in China
In China homosexuality is mostly seen as a family problem. veterinarian and the executive director of Beijing's LGBT center, discussed a friend whose mother took her to a psychologist after the daughter came out. "The mom was going crazy, and really wanted to change her, but the psychologist was pretty professional and so didn't think it was a disease. The mom felt pretty helpless." Fan Popo, a 26-year-old documentary filmmaker and former executive director of the Beijing LGBT center, says some parents, lacking any basic understanding of homosexuality, will drag their kid to a doctor after he comes out. Although his parents accept his homosexuality, "I have a sister who always says to me you should go to the hospital and see if they can cure you. She thinks now medicine is very developed, and you can cure everything."
"It's less the people themselves wanting to visit clinics and get cured and more the parents after finding out their kid is gay, or wife because the husband is gay," says Wei Xiaogang, co-founder of Queer Comrades.
"Cures That Kill" is a documentary by the Chinese gay rights organization Queer Comrades a about two men struggling with their homosexuality, and the hospitals dotted around China advertising a solution. Released in the U.S. in 2011, it tells the story of A Wen, a Sichuanese photographer, and Sander Chan, an ethnic Chinese politician from Holland who spent years trying to use his belief in Christianity to exorcise his homosexuality: "I would often fast for one or two days after having a sexual fantasy, just as a reminder of what my goal is," he stoically tells the camera. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]
Isaac Stone Fish wrote in the Los Angeles Times, " A Wen's malaise was caused by a problem common with the Chinese generation growing up in the 1980s and earlier: an almost complete lack of awareness of homosexuality." "There was a guy named Jiang that I secretly loved in high school. At which point I drank a half liter of sorghum liquor … that was the first time my parents sent me to a mental institution."
Chan, whose Christian-based cure involved "praying Jesus into his past," snapped out of it not long after "sitting around a table with a group of gay Christians, and somehow the topic switched to depression, and I found out that everyone at the table had tried to commit suicide at some point." He's since happily been in relationships with men.
Now that he's moved to Beijing and met other gays, A Wen realized who he is and learned to accept his sexual orientation. The film doesn't explain how A Wen's family shifted to tolerance but shows him, his parents and his boyfriend laughing together. In the documentary Zhang warns parents against foisting these therapies on their children. "I tell them that you might turn the person into a sexless being." Pleadingly, he asks the parents, "Do you really want to deprive them of an essential experience of happiness in their life?"
Clinics “Curing” Homosexuality in China
Isaac Stone Fish wrote in Los Angeles Times, “ For those willing to pay for it, some clinics offer therapy to solve a problem of filial distress.” "They get some beautiful men to walk around naked beside you, or make you watch gay porn," says Zhang Beichuan, one of China's leading experts on homosexuality, describing a practice he doesn't advocate. "The man naturally will get an erection. When his erection reaches a certain level, the instrument emits an electrical discharge, which upsets him. They repeat the process until the man doesn't get excited anymore." [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]
The consensus among the local gay community is that those on the mainland peddling cures for homosexuality, which include drug prescriptions, consultation, surgery and even electric shock , do it less out of a Christian or moral opposition to homosexuality and more out of a desire for financial gain. None of the doctors who claimed the ability to cure homosexuality were willing to cooperate with the documentary, so the moviemakers filmed a volunteer speaking with their clinics on the phone.
A representative from a clinic in the provincial capital of Taiyuan said homosexuality is a "sexual substitution problem, like boot fetishes," and refused to elaborate, citing its desire to protect "its professional secrets." "When you call as someone seeking a cure, you will make dollar signs flash in their eyes," the film quotes Fang Gang, a sexology expert, as saying.
Transvestites and Transsexuals in China
Transvestites often works as "show girls" at nightclubs and karaoke bars.
No statistics have been made public on the number of sex change operation performed in China. However, there are enough of them that the Beijing Medical University publishes guidelines for people who want to undergo the surgery, including psychological counseling, hormone treatments and a five year waiting period.
The first sex change operation was reportedly performed in secret in 1983. A doctor at the Beijing Medical University said 26 such operations had been done there as of 1999.
Jin Xing, China's first open transsexual, is a big nightclub star in Beijing. She is a former army colonel, prize-winning dancer and choreographer and founder of China's first independent dance troupe. She had her sex change operation in 1995 and became famous in 1996 when her dance troupe was praised for it original pieces exploring love and identity.
Chinese Drag Queen Princesses
Gan Tian wrote in the China Daily, “'Xiao Lu' is an undergraduate who likes to don fake long wavy blonde hair, wear colorful leggings and put on fake eyelashes. He also borrows some female garments and cosmetics from his girlfriend. Part time drag queen? Xiao Lu (his stage name, not his real name) does not want to be associated with that term. Cross-dressing is a new trend among Wuhan's undergraduates and Xiao Lu is considered as a trendsetter. He co-founded Alice Nisemusume (pseudo-girl in Japanese) Association and his favorite role is to dress up like Shihodani Yujiro's character in the Japanese manga, Princess Princess. The manga tells the story of three boys, chosen to dress up as girls, in an all-boy school. [Source: Gan Tian, China Daily, April 24, 2012]
“Xiao Lu, a student from Zhongnan University for Nationalities, first dabbled in cross-dressing three years ago when he and a few friends volunteered to play the female roles in a small cartoon performance. It was a huge success and his team attracted so many fans that they decided to form the Alice Nisemusume Association, a group where all male members play female roles. "I just want to bring alive the beautiful cartoon characters in Japanese manga," says 20-year-old Xiao Lu, adding the association is now one of the most well-known campus groups in Wuhan, as many undergraduates are fans of nisemusume-type stories. [Ibid]
“The association boasts 300 members from various universities in the city, including Central China Normal University, Hubei Radio and TV University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. It has been invited to major cartoon exhibitions and talk shows throughout China. For each event, they are paid 500 yuan ($7.90) a person. [Ibid]
“According to Li Yinhe, a well-known sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the current trend is a unique expression of the performing arts. She compares these students to Li Yugang, an attention grabbing male singer best known for his female roles. "The popularity of cross-dressing performances show the vibrancy of performing arts. These young male students are anime fans, who like Japanese feminine cartoon figures, and they are expressing their interest through their performances. There is nothing wrong with it. It won't change their sexuality," Li Yinhe says. [Ibid]
“Confirming Li's views, Xiao Lu says for most of his friends, it is just a passing fancy. "We don't even aspire to make our association a profitable one. We are just a group of normal people who love Japanese cartoons, but we lead normal lives. We will stop all this cross-dressing once we've graduated," he says. [Ibid]
Hostility Towards Chinese Drag Queen Princesses
While Xiao Lu is basking in the success of his favorite pastime, his friend Liu Peng (also a stage name) is not amused by the attention. Twenty-one-year-old Liu Peng is one of the earliest members of Alice Nisemusume Association. He said the popularity of nisemusume has attracted unwanted attention, with many conservative observers questioning the actors' masculinity. Liu Peng's mother was one of them. "I feel very uneasy about my son's interest in dressing like a woman. His behavior will cause confusion about his values on gender and sex. That's why I've stopped him from joining such activities," Liu Peng's mother says. [Ibid]
“Sun Yunxiao, deputy director of China Youth and Children Research Center, says pop culture like nisemusume conveys the wrong gender message to youths. "Boys should be masculine, powerful and shoulder responsibilities. But, there are too many contradictory messages in society, like those hidden in Japanese cartoons and singing competitions," Sun says. [Ibid]
“In 2010, Liu Zhu, a 19-year-old cross-dressing competitor, shot to fame when he participated in Hunan TV's Happy Boys, a singing contest like American Idol. The contest triggered a countrywide discussion, mostly negative, on the cross-dressing phenomenon. It also affected Alice Nisemusume Association membership. Those who couldn't take the negative comments - quit. In autumn 2010, the association was left with only four members, prompting former association president, Liu Peng, to consider dissolving the association after Christmas that year. [Ibid]
From Army Officer to Dancing TV Stardom: the Story of China’s Most Famous Transsexual
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “Interviewing Jin Xing is tiring enough: her emphatic but accelerated delivery fills pages of a notebook within minutes. Being her must be truly exhausting. Her starring role in a Shanghai play has come to a close, but there's a new contemporary dance production; a television talkshow to host; guest spots as a judge on a TV talent contest; and three young children to mother. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 20, 2012]
That's just this autumn. She has crammed much more into her life, partly thanks to the fearsome military discipline forged as a colonel in the People's Liberation Army performance troupe. She may be the only acclaimed contemporary dancer capable of blowing up a bridge. Though she is just 43, Jin's life has spanned numerous roles, two continents and, most famously, both genders. "All over the world, it's very tough for people to accept it," she says of her gender reassignment surgery. But in China, which remains in some ways highly conservative, her frankness is almost unique: "Homosexuals are like a small island. Transgender [people] are a tiny island." This is not a complaint. For one thing, Jin does not believe in them. "I hate whining. If you want to do it, do it. If you're doing it and complaining — what a pathetic life." For another, she believes that having had the surgery makes her "more privileged, special and stronger, because I have a wider angle in looking at society and life". [Ibid]
Her career has earned her plaudits from Li Yinhe, a sociologist and one of the best-known advocates for LGBT rights in China, who says, "She is still discriminated against by society, but she is very brave in facing it. She has a good family and successful career; her achievements have made her an icon." "I chose the stage, then dance chose me," Jin says while whacking on makeup in her dressing room. As a young boy, Jin joined the entertainment troupe of the army. All the performers had to undertake the PLA's routine training and young Jin struggled with grenades and machine guns, too big and unwieldy for his slight hands and body. The dance classes were equally harsh, with instructors physically contorting the children's bodies until they were flexible enough. "In western culture, you'd call it complete child abuse. In China, that's the culture: you want to be the best? You do it." Were they beaten? "If you made a mistake? Of course!"
With only one visit home each year, homesickness added to the pressure. "I'm still benefiting from the discipline of military training. I have a performance tonight but at 9am tomorrow I'll be back in the [dance] studio training again. Even the way I take my dance company — that's about discipline. Nobody breaks my rules," she adds. "Bigtrouble." After saying this she flashes a lovely smile. [Ibid]
Life of China’s Most Famous Transsexual
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, Jin Xing studied contemporary dance in New York. But the lessons outside the studio proved as important as those inside: "If you ask what I am proud of — I am only proud that once I was 19, when the government sent me to the US, I took charge of my own life. Everything I do I choose — no matter how tough or whatever failure." It took her years to make the hardest choice. Even as a small boy, Jin knew that "something was wrong. I so envied my sister. I felt I should be her." Unable to make sense of the feelings, he sublimated them for years. For a while after moving to New York, he thought he might be gay. Finally, that childhood sense reemerged, "a weird feeling in myself — that I should be a woman".[Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 20, 2012]
To Jin's surprise, her conservative parents accepted her decision without question; her father had always felt there was something different about his child. But her life story has the mythic outlines of a movie ("Pedro Almódovar is a good friend of mine. One day he will make a movie out of my life.") There was, of course, a twist. She woke from her operation to discover that the nerves of one leg had been badly affected. Doctors warned she would walk with a limp."Oh. My. God. The first moment I realised my leg was damaged, I wanted to jump out of the building. I thought my life was finished," she says. "But after three, four days, I thought well — this is another test." She was on stage within three months. [Ibid]
Next came the adoption of three children. A few years later, she sat next to a German businessman on a flight from Shanghai to Paris. Heinz-Gerd Oidtmann rang her the next day; though he took a few days to digest the news that Jin had been a man, they soon became a couple. Oidtmann calls her a "control freak", she jokes; and she has struggled to adapt to his European mindset: "I've tried to learn to take a holiday. After three days I feel guilty."
As for the children, who are usually kept away from iPads, "rubbish" TV and junk food, "They get very close to Daddy. When Mummy's travelling, he takes them to KFC." She does not look too worried at the prospect. For all her talk of discipline, her eldest son, now aged 12, will soon head to boarding school in the UK because "the Chinese education system sucks Š The first thing kids learn is: obey."
Few would wish to cross Jin. She called a fellow talkshow guest — a celebrity who criticised his wife for telling people he had hit her repeatedly — a "filthy and selfish man". She's a judge on the Chinese equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing, but is scathing: "In the UK they really work at it. Over here it's second- or third-class movie stars who just want the exposure and work for a maximum of one week. It's really low-quality dancing." Now she has her own debate show, which airs on a Hong Kong station rather than the heavily censored mainland channels. But she picks her topics carefully: "I'm not against the party [and] I know the laws — but I can talk about social issues." Officials trust her because "they know I know the borderlines", she says. Besides, what better way to demonstrate the changing face of China than via an outspoken transsexual former colonel?
Image Sources: Wikipedia
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012