The first case of transsexual surgery, a male to female, took place secretly in 1983. Jess Macy Yu of the New York Times wrote: “Cross-dressing and sex-change procedures are not illegal in China, but the Chinese Society of Psychiatry classifies individuals seeking to change their gender as suffering from a mental illness — a judgment many rights advocates seek to change. Rights advocates acknowledge that China has made progress in its treatment of transgender individuals. In 2009, the Health Ministry issued clinical standards for gender reassignment surgery, and several hospitals now offer hormone treatment. [Source: Jess Macy Yu, New York Times, January 27, 2015]

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.

Liana Zhou and Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: “In China, transgender individuals are generally excluded from the European and North American concept of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) or queer, although transvestitism and drag in gay clubs is not uncommon. Chinese often see transgender people as having a medical condition, whereas homosexuality is more often regarded as a choice or developmental phase. [Source:Liana Zhou and Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

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.

According to the “International Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: In early Chinese history, hundreds of males were castrated every year to become eunuchs. Some of these were transsexuals. In other words, transsexuals in the past had a legal option transsexuals do not have in China to day China. [Source: Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M. P. Lau, M.D., “International Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, edited by Robert T. Francoeur, Ph.d., and Raymond J. Noonan, PhD., Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, online at the Kinsey Institute \^/]

Websites and Sources: USA Today piece ; Sex Incidents in China ; Sex Industry ; 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 ; Chinese Sex Literature ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review Prostitution in China : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China

History of Trangender People in China

Recognition of transsexualism in human society is a relatively recent phenomenon, especially in the closed society of mainland China. In January 1983, with the author’s assistance, the first male-to-female transsexual surgery was performed in the Plastic Surgery Department of the Third Hospital of Beijing Medical University. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]

The greatest difficulty facing transsexuals in China is that of gaining the acceptance of their families and society. It is nearly impossible to obtain permission to perform transsexual surgery. A psychiatrist told the author that he had seen two transsexual patients who, after being repeatedly denied transsexual surgery, used knives to remove the penis by themselves. The problem is not a lack of appropriate surgical techniques and facilities. In fact, both general plastic surgery and such precise surgical techniques as reimplantation of severed fingers are very advanced in China. Dr. Xia, in the Plastic Surgery Department of the Third Hospital of Beijing Medical University, has successfully operated simultaneously on a male-to-female transsexual and a female-to-male transsexual with mutual exchange and transplantation of ovaries and testicles; this surgery took nineteen hours. If permission were given, transsexual surgery could be performed with little difficulty in most large hospitals. The problem is really perceptual and ideological. The absence of scientific research on the subject means that there is nothing to counteract the statements of the popular press, which describes transsexualism as not merely outlandish, but as evidence of the inroads of “decadent Western culture.” This ideological tone effectively inhibits surgeons’ willingness to perform transsexual surgery.

According to the paper “The Child Play Behavior and Activity Questionnaire: A Parent-Report Measure of Childhood Gender-Related Behavior in China” by Lu Yu, Sam Winter and Dong Xie: “ Boys and girls establish relatively stable gender stereotyped behavior patterns by middle childhood. Parent-reported questionnaires measuring children’s gender related behavior enable researchers to conduct large-scale screenings of community samples of children. For school-aged children, two parent-reported instruments, the Child Game Participation Questionnaire (CGPQ) and the Child Behavior and Attitude Questionnaire (CBAQ), have long been used for measuring children’s sex-dimorphic behaviors in Western societies, but few studies have been conducted using these measures for Chinese populations. The current study aimed to empirically examine and modify the two instruments for their applications to Chinese society. Parents of 486 Chinese boys and 417 Chinese girls (6-12 years old) completed a questionnaire comprising items from the CGPQ and CBAQ, and an additional 14 items specifically related to Chinese gender-specific games. Items revealing gender differences in a Chinese sample were identified and used to construct a Child Play Behavior and Activity Questionnaire (CPBAQ). Four new scales were generated through factor analysis: Gender Scale, Girl Typicality Scale, Boy Typicality Scale, and Cross-Gender Scale. These scales had satisfactory internal reliabilities and a large effect size for gender. The CPBAQ is believed to be a promising instrument for measuring children’s gender-related behavior in China. [Source: “The Child Play Behavior and Activity Questionnaire: A Parent-Report Measure of Childhood Gender-Related Behavior in China’ by Lu Yu, Sam Winter and Dong Xie. An electronic postprint was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, August 22, 2008. Also see “Gender Atypical Behavior in Chinese School-aged Children: Its Prevalence and Relations to Sex, Age and Only-child Status” and “Gender-Related Behavior, Gender Identity, and Psychological Adjustment in Chinese Children “ by Lu Yu.

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

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.

‘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.

“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.

Jin Xing: From Army Officer to Dancing TV Stardom: the Story of China’s Most Famous Transsexual

Transvestites often works as "show girls" at nightclubs and karaoke bars. Some have gone on to bigger and better things. 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".

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.

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.

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 — 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?

Transgender Sex Workers in China

Jess Macy Yu of the New York Times wrote: “When Piao Piao, 26, who was born a boy in Shandong Province, arrived in Beijing in 2008 to live a life as the woman she felt she truly was, she faced innumerable problems. After she began dressing as a woman, while still using official documents that identified her as male, it was difficult for her to find a mainstream job. So she became an entertainer in bars, and supplemented her income as a sex worker. [Source: Jess Macy Yu, New York Times, January 27, 2015 ***]

“She earns about 200 renminbi, or $33, a night for her shows, which on good nights end with dates with heterosexual men, whom she brings back to her shoebox-size studio apartment in southeast Beijing. “I face a lot of discrimination here,” Piao Piao (her stage name) said one recent afternoon at her apartment, where the curtains were drawn. “I’d like to find a real job, but it’s not easy here in the city. So I’ve relied on performing and dancing, and other various means.” “You can’t live too ostentatiously here,” she continued. “You have to adjust your expectations.” ***

“Those employed in sex work, which is illegal in China, reported abuse and extortion by the police. In Shanghai and Beijing, police officers have often relied on entrapment tactics in hotels, posing as clients to solicit transgender individuals. Several said they believed they had been arrested to help the police meet arrest quotas. ***

“Xiao Tong, a sex worker quoted in the report [below], described the way she was treated at a police station: “Once I went in, they pulled on my wig, really hard, and hit me,” she said. “They asked me if I was a man, and I said I wasn’t. Then they carried out a body search and flipped my bra up and groped around. They asked really perverted questions, like, ‘How do you have sex?’ I turned around and asked, ‘Do you want to try?’ Then he kicked me, really, he really kicked me.” ***

Report on Transgender Sex Workers in China

Jess Macy Yu of the New York Times wrote: “Piao Piao’s experiences are typical of those of the transgender sex workers in Beijing and Shanghai surveyed by Asia Catalyst, a New York-based nongovernmental organization that focuses on health issues in China and Southeast Asia, in conjunction with two Chinese organizations. Their recent report, titled “My Life Is Too Dark to See the Light,” draws on interviews with 70 people, most of whom left their rural hometowns to live in more liberal-minded cities, where they make a living from sex work. [Source: Jess Macy Yu, New York Times, January 27, 2015 ***]

“The report calls for greater government recognition of the problems of those who have a mismatch between their birth sex and their internal sense of gender. It also calls for actions including antidiscrimination laws, streamlined procedures for changing one’s gender on official documents, and greater access to medical care. “Transgender female sex workers are among the most marginalized and vulnerable populations in China today,” the report said. They “face a broad array of discrimination in social and policy frameworks, preventing this highly marginalized group access to a wide spectrum of services and legal protections.” ***

“The report recommends more efficient ways to change gender markers on documents like household registration and personal identity cards — documents that are essential for living in Chinese cities and for finding employment. Several people interviewed for the report described the obstacles they face in everyday life, like going to one of the public bathhouses that are common in northern China, receiving medical care or even walking on the street dressed as a woman. Some recounted being reported by neighbors to the local authorities, and being evicted from their apartments.***

“One recommendation is that the government should incorporate the needs of transgender individuals in the H.I.V./AIDS plan for 2016 to 2020 that it is expected to be released in April. Asia Catalyst hopes the plan will expand the existing H.I.V. surveillance system to study the health of people with gender dysphoria and to provide more medical services for sex workers. “I think the research we’ve done is just a start,” Ms. Shen said. “We would like to see the health department carefully assess the needs of the population because this is a really diverse group, with very diverse sexual activities. They might play different roles with different partners, so this is an urgent issue that we should have a strategy for now.” ***

“In recent years, we have seen a stronger and more visible rights movement for homosexuals, but we’ve seen few transgender-rights activists,” said Tingting Shen, one of the authors of the report and the director of advocacy, research and policy at Asia Catalyst. “When I talk to transgender activists, they think that right now the government is not fully aware of their situation, or aware that it needs to do something.” ***

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.

Last updated October 2021

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