Jin Xing TalkAsia Interview Transcript
Airdate: June 4th, 2005
LH: Lorraine Hahn
JX: Jin Xing
LH: Hello and welcome to Talk Asia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. My guest this week is the famous Chinese modern dancer, Jin Xing. A star it seems in both name and reputation. Jin Xing was the son of an army officer and a translator; as a child, he excelled at dance and became the youngest person ever to be enlisted in the People's Liberation Army Song and Dance Academy. He became the first Chinese dancer to be awarded an arts scholarship to study in the United States, and that proved to be both a professional and personal turning point. Aware that he often felt more like a woman than a man, Jin Xing underwent a sex change in 1995; a daring move in a conservative Chinese society. Professionally, Jin Xing continues to push the boundaries of modern dance in Europe and here in China.
Jin Xing welcome to TalkAsia thank you very much for spending time with us. (JX: Thank you Lorraine). I wanted to ask you how did you get involved in dance?
JX: I think instead of I'm getting involved with dance; I think that dancing chose me. I always had a fantasy, a dream, me standing on stage. I love the feeling standing on stage, the curtains open, the lights on you...
LH: And you worked with famous names like Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, what was that like?
JX: I think for me is...eyes wide open. Because at that time, before in China we see such a high qualified dance training as a Russian ballet training, Chinese folk dancing, and I considered myself as a perfect dance machine. You just enter the program and I can do everything you wished, but less than personal feeling involved. Then after I went to America studied modern dance, I said ok, suddenly I realized I can dancing with my body, create my own language, express my own feeling. That's big things for me; challenging.
LH: When you came back you joined the Shanghai Opera Company, and I read that you were pretty tough, you fired like thirty something people. Is that part of your nature, to be a very strong person?
JX: I think it's a good result in the professional sense, be very tough. And I...2000, I moved to Shanghai from Beijing and I working with the opera house. Then I saw so many dancers lying there doing nothing. They are carry a dancer's name but they are not a dancer at all. (LH: Lazy?) Lazy and they are really lying on the system, trying to get the...whatever. I said, "No that doesn't work for me. Out". That was a big things for the opera. They says, "You cannot do this." I said, "Yes. If you want me in charge of the art quality I have to do that."
LH: Why did you decide to start up your own school?
JX: I think I appreciated all the education I got from the state and government...were fantastic. But according to modern dance style I think is really individual and personal. I think I would rather with my experience in the west and China, to combine and create my own idea, the movement, the body language - it was very important.
LH: I see so it's a culmination of whatever you've learned, picked up from...
JX: Yeah, yeah. I think so, because I think according to western and eastern body construction, the western much more good under body. They are long legs, strong legs, strong feet. But Asian people much more strong upper body and express it on the face. I think these two combined, quite interesting, very unique dance style.
LH: Up until your twenties you were dancing as a man correct? (JX: Yes). Why did you decide to undergo this sex change operation?
JX: I think that's the one for the instinct feeling when I was very young. I know I was born as a boy; biologically my parents gave me this boy look. But inside the way I thinking, the way I want to behave, presenting myself as a person - I would like to be a woman. And also I love society take me, receive me as a woman. Then that's all the fantasy as a young kid. Then after certain age I was wondering myself maybe I'm a gay. But I said no, I have no problems dealing with a gay, I have so many gay friends, but I'm not gay. But who you are as in I have to really doubting and wondering a lot of time. After I went to America and I'm twenty years old then I discovered ok maybe I need to go to a modern medical treatment to become who I am myself; inside and outside become one. Then I said, yup. But it's not a decision like this. From nineteen years old until twenty eight I take nine years to think it over. (LH: That is a long time). Long time, I think it is a long period of time to think it over.
LH: What was the decision process like? I mean could you not have maybe lived as a gay, as a homosexual rather than a transsexual?
JX: I think in this issue I often talk to press and interviews, I think Asia people separate these two things quite clearly. In west, gay, transsexual, everything, have sexual different thing they put into one package. But in Asia we separate it: homosexual is homosexual, transsexual is transsexual - it's two different things. In my case I didn't think about that. That was one of my life step I have to take. Of course I know heterosexual is big group and homosexual becomes small group, but transsexual is tiny bit. But I think doesn't matter maybe in my life, this life; I belong to this tiny group. So that's me. Then I will take very...because it take eight years nine years to think it over, I have to check, do I have the condition to be a pretty woman. The pretty means you are comfortable with yourself, convinced.
LH: Right, right. Jin Xing we're going to take a very very short break. When we come back, Jin Xing talks more about the decision that changed her life.
LH: Welcome back, this week's TalkAsia is coming to you from Shanghai. With me is Chinese modern dancer Jin Xing. Jin Xing before we took the break we were talking about your decision to have the sex change operation. What was the hardest part of that?
JX: I think the hard part for the medical performance, I don't think is difficult. If you ready to do certain change, you prepare yourself and go through all the procedures. I mean you don't know all the details but psychologically prepared.
JX: I think that's what give me confidence before I went into the big change. Only two person I needed to get permission - is my parents. They are original the creative person of this creation. I need to respect the copyright. (LH: That's a good way of putting it!) Exactly, I need to receive the copyright. If they have no problem changing it I think is fine. Of course they have difficulty time to understand why I need do this change then I think the love helped them to accept it. They want their children be happy.
LH: Did that surprise you that they actually supported you?
JX: I surprised by my father's reaction. My mother was always very close then for her she said, "doesn't matter boy or girl, you're always my children. This is your life; if you're happy make you happy. I just want...don't destroy your health. You can continue on stage dancing." I was concerned my father was the difficult one because all his life very conservative, a military officer. Then when I talked to him he was silent for two minutes. Then he said "well, finally matched." I said, "Why you say that?" He said, "When you was young I looked at you, you looked like a girl but I was wondering I have a son that behaves like a little girl. So twenty eight years later you find yourself, congratulations." (LH: Wow). That was a huge release.
LH: That must have been. Now if they had not supported you would you have still gone through what you did?
JX: I think so. That's me. When I was nine years old I chose myself to be...going to military school. Already they know this kid has exact idea what she wants to do. So they know my character. For respect I asked them, but if they don't I still go for it but in time I would help them to understand. That was kind of thinking - I was turning to society. I just keep my name because Jin Xing could be both sex; very unisex name. And I just asked my father help me change my identity card from male to female. Then rest of the work I have to done myself. Just face the society with my sincere, honest attitude.
LH: Now you were their only son and you know how important sons are to Asian society. Did that weigh heavily on you as well when you broached the subject with your parents?
JX: From my father's family part I am the only boy. If you really carry this Jin family name, I am the one responsible. But my father was really...I think I am a really blessing child. He said, "It's your life, you have to...responsible to dealing with your own life. Fine." Then I said, "That's why I'm very confident since after I'm out of hospital because my parents have no problem, I don't mind other people's criticizement."
LH: That's right, that's right. Aside from the obvious, how has your life changed after the operation?
JX: Suddenly people, all the focus on your sex change instead of pay attention to your artistic achievement. That period of time a little bit frustrated but after so many years I feel ok. Because the dancer and the sex change, the transsexual whatever become one person who become Jin Xing, it's me.
LH: So did you feel after the operation that people came to see you maybe out of curiosity?
JX: A lot of curiosity. When I dancing, first time I presenting the Beijing Modern Dance Ensemble which was I created the Beijing Cultural Bureau in 1995, and I think 70 per cent of audience to see ok, how she look like - tremendous curiosity. Then I said ok, my personal story I can sacrifice with that. If it can bring the people, audience to come to see me dance, see modern dance, why not? And after one and a half an hour I think I'm the winner.
LH: Why did you choose to do the operation in China. I mean you could have done it in the United States or you know.
JX: I think of course I think for me I don't have any religions but I'm a very superstitious person. My parents give me a life as an Asian, as China...Chinese...this life, born in China. Second time I choose my life again I still I think belong to this ground. I feel protected.
LH: But you didn't go through the whole thing right? You didn't change your vocal cords.
JX: No, no, no, no. Actually, my face exactly same, the way I speaking, my hand's gesture, everything, my voice - everything the same.
LH: What was it like the first time you returned onto stage as a woman?
JX: Uh...difficult. I think not easy because the energy...before you're dancing as a male, you really go with your energy. But luckily I think I'm dancing a contemporary dance. You know contemporary dance feel...the sex thing is quite balanced. (LH: Not so much like ballet right?) Exactly, no one lifting me, just you dancing for yourself. And also after I become a female dancer, I think much more respond. This is a kind of (?) from society. As a male dancer if you're dancing very tenderly, very soft, the society doesn't...(LH: Accept) accept easily. But if you see a female dancer, she can dance very soft, very beautiful and very tough, strong - both part the society accept no problem. That's the thing, after become a female dancer I have much more confidence. I can do whatever I want.
LH: What about the techniques...dance techniques as well.
JX: I think I'm privileged; I get a lot advantage from this. I have a male strong part I kept and still have the sensitivity of female dancers. That's why I think Jin Xing on stage, quite different.
LH: You got the support from your parents, but you eventually got the support from the Chinese government. That must have come as a shock.
JX: That take time, it's not like one day I think it take three or four years. Before they have no comment about my personal change. (LH: No comment at all, they didn't even turn around and say don't do it?) No they don't say don't do it, they don't say why you do it, they don't support. That's like ok, keep quiet. But another part for my contemporary dancing, they also don't support that much. They just keep quiet. Everything with Jin Xing is quiet. Then I think it take years to prove I'm a serious artist.
LH: What you did Jin Xing took a lot of courage to do. Where did you find this courage?
JX: I don't think...everybody says, "Oh you're such a brave person." I say, "No." I just put the simple words; I am just honest with myself. I cannot lie. I can lie something else but I don't want to lie to my life. This is my life, I need honest to myself. People thing ah, maybe she's changed for the dancing, sometimes people think because she wants to be a woman to marry a man. I said, "No, not one of them." (LH: You didn't do it for a man, you didn't do it...). Not at all. No one man in this earth, in this planet worth for me to do such a sacrifice. I don't think so. I just do it completely for myself.
LH: Jin Xing we're going to take another very very short break. When we come back Jin Xing talks about the challenges of leading an unconventional life in China. Stay with us.
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia, my guest is Chinese modern dancer Jin Xing. Jin Xing you grew up and we talked about it before, a military family and your father was very strict. How much of that military training and having a father that was in the military has shaped your life up until now?
JX: I got a tremendous, excellent education as dancer and a discipline. I think this discipline really even accompany me today in professional life. That's a part of training, education, you are part of the military dancer. You are ready to entertain the soldier when they are fighting in the war. At the same time you are ready to participate in the fighting. So that's my education...of course I never participate in any war luckily. But you got the training.
LH: Right. Let's talk about the conflict between let's say playing by the rules and being as you have been, daring in China. And how people have accept you and the approval that you've got, how do you feel about that?
JX: It's very like you say, very daring step to each person to make their own steps. Before they make own step they always thinking, oh society reaction type of thing. I don't know where I come from, this idea just follow my instincts. Of course it takes a lot of courage and people to accept it but I give society time. I always told myself, you asking such a big favour from society. Same hands, you have to give back the freedom to people to criticize about you. I think this is, make me very easy.
LH: And no hesitation, even till the last minute when they put you under?
JX: No, no hesitation. I just prepared. If something going wrong with my life, I deserve that; just commit it. So I think that...which was something happened actually last operation. The nurse didn't take a good care of me during a sixteen hour last operation then they damaged my leg, left leg. (LH: Oh no) Yes I... my left leg was a massive completely cramped. It's nothing to do with my sex change but my leg, they didn't pay attention, the blood stopped the circulation. All my left leg, all the muscles to the toe, the nerves all damaged. Then after I come out of the operation the doctor said, "My God, she lost her legs." Because even I recover I will be limping. Forget about she's become a dancer, just even walk I would be limping. That was tough time, I almost want to jump off the building from the hospital. But take me a few weeks then I said, "Why happen this?" If something happen with my sex change I commit, but why my leg, I'm a dancer. This leg means so much to me. Then another part I convinced myself, I analyze myself. I said ok, this is huge gift from a person human life...a person...then the natural hands really push me down again, harder. If I really can stand up, you're qualified to get this gift. (LH: And now you're ok). No, after three months training, really hard training, I dancing on stage with a limping leg. Then of course I take two years recover, now I'm fine.
LH: You have lived in various countries around the world, you speak five languages, but China is still home.
JX: Yeah, I think this is a big picture background behind me, I really deeply appreciate it. Before I went to outside western world I don't feel that much, but when you in the west and looking back it's beautiful picture, beautiful culture. Then I think as a...this picture is very important for me. I have no problem traveling around, seeing the world, communicating, but still I'm much more comfortable in this place.
LH: And you feel very Chinese right? Because you are racially Korean.
JX: Korean, yes. I'm in China because even my both parents they are originally from Korea but myself as Chinese, born China, received all the Chinese education: the value, the philosophy, who's influenced my life as in very Chinese. Then I'm happy.
LH: There must be something, a little bit of Korean in you.
JX: I think the way I'm dancing, the feeling, the rhythm in my body is very much Korean influence. (LH: Right) Dancing from a young child I see all my mom's friends they are dancing after dinner party. Then I say, ok you know...
LH: Your mum also gave you a very special gift didn't she, after the operation.
JX: Yes. I think she was one of the person I really appreciate in my life. She helped me adopt the three children. Now I'm a three children's mom. They all Chinese kids I adopted.
LH: That must have been something, what did she do? She just said, "These are three children and here they are"?
JX: I think she, the way she think because she have no idea about the transsexual's life or what it's going to be like. She's always thinking she'll be alone, and alone she'd rather have some kids because she knows I'm the person...I'm full of love. Of course I have love in my dancing, on the stage. But still I have too much love to give. I was deeply appreciative, I love kids. So I have no problem adopting. That was also another taboo: Jin Xing adopting three children and as a single mother? It's a big thing but I think I'm managing well.
LH: Wow. And now well recently, you've gotten married as well, congratulations. (JX: Thank you). How did you meet your husband?
JX: He's working in China, he's German, but we met...actually we met in the air when I fly back from Paris performance. Then he was sitting next to me. Then we met and we chat. Of course from the beginning, very beginning he was attracted by me but I tell him, I say "behind the attraction is a huge package, huge story, can you take it?" I think after he learned all my story, all my background he still want to know me. Then I think take time. I think after you have kids, the way you choosing your man or partner is different. You want the man responsible, also a good husband, of course good lover and same time as a good image of the father for the three children. It's very important.
Right yes I would agree. What will you tell your children when they get older?
JX: My son, first son already five years old, we looking at my old album, he looking at my picture, he always pointing me saying, "Who is this boy?" I say, "That's mommy before." He say, "Oh mommy so cute." I say, "Yes, mommy was a cute boy." I think it's very natural, I tell him the family how different...each family is different; the construction of family idea and parenthood is different.
LH You have tried your hand at acting, three movies under your belt?
JX: I still consider myself a stage person. I do a lot of dancing; I do a lot of stage acting as Chinese theater. And also I'm directing a lot of theater and music as a director. But for movie in Japanese production, Korean, and now I'm doing a Thai production. Complete personal interesting, find my time to relax myself. You have to learn something different.
LH: I'm surprised you have the time with your three children, your husband, you travel, your school. My goodness...
JX: Since nineteen years old I really in charge of my life. Everything I do I choose to. It's nobody forced me to do it. I don't know somebody forced me to do something I can do such good. But everything I do I choose it. I have no complaints.
LH: It sounds so simple isn't it? I chose my life but many of us don't even have that chance. What is your philosophy in life now, what do you live by?
JX: I live by my... I try to make life simple because so many things unexpected happen in life, human life. You are just prepared in a good healthy way and good way to face the unexpected things happening. Besides that the most you can do is just relax and light. I want to make my life light; I don't want it to be too heavy. That's why I think everything come to me, make simple.
LH: Jin Xing thank you very very much for spending time with us, really appreciate it. And that's it for this very special edition of TalkAsia from Shanghai. My guest has been Chinese modern dancer Jin Xing. I'm Lorraine Hah, let's talk again next week.