Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Jin Xing: China's sex-change pioneer

By Jaime FlorCruz, CNN
updated 12:02 AM EDT, Thu July 11, 2013
Cultural icon Jin Xing (or Golden Star) made her fame as dancer-choreographer of Shanghai's Jin Xing Dance Theater. She was one of the first Chinese to have a sex change operation. Cultural icon Jin Xing (or Golden Star) made her fame as dancer-choreographer of Shanghai's Jin Xing Dance Theater. She was one of the first Chinese to have a sex change operation.
HIDE CAPTION
China's transgender trail blazer
China's transgender trail blazer
China's transgender trail blazer
China's transgender trail blazer
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dancer-choreographer Jin Xing had China's first officially recognized sex change operation in 1996
  • Jin has become an emblem of personal freedom and gender equality in China
  • She appeared as a judge in China's versions of "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol"
  • Jin: "I don't want to change the world ... I just want to be myself"

Editor's note: "Jaime's China" is a weekly column about Chinese society and politics. Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and was TIME Magazine's Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

Beijing (CNN) -- Few people have had so much impact on the Chinese attitude towards sexuality and gender equality than Jin Xing.

A spritely, sassy cultural icon, Jin Xing (or Golden Star) has sashayed her way to stardom as dancer-choreographer of Shanghai's Jin Xing Dance Theater, one of China's first non-government modern dance troupes.

Jin has also emerged as one of the most prominent -- and controversial -- emblem of personal freedom and gender equality in China.

Jin was one of the first Chinese to have a sex change operation -- and the first officially recognized by the Chinese government.

SEAL is transgender 'Warrior Princess'
Transgender child's family fights school
Transgender hoops player takes to court
Transgender woman competes in pageant

Jin's story acquires distinct significance in the Chinese context. Although the wall of puritanism built around China's sexual mores has been gradually crumbling, traditional Chinese reticence and sexual stereotypes persist.

I first met Jin Xing in 1994, when he was a man. He had just returned to Beijing after spending four years in the United States, learning modern dance from mentors like Martha Graham, and later dancing with professional troupes in Rome and Paris.

That time, the 26-year-old was perhaps the best male dancer in China, much admired for his furious pirouettes, soaring leaps and dazzling choreography.

A year later, Jin decided to have sex change. "When I was six years old, I thought I should be a woman," Jin said. "I myself knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what was wrong or what was mistaken. I had a confusing moment. I was wondering maybe I am homosexual, but in the end I said, no, I should come back to myself."

It was a difficult decision. Homosexuality was still considered a crime, tagged as "hooliganism," and was officially listed as a "mental disorder."

"That was quite taboo in 1995," Jin recalled. "The country's best male dancer becomes a female dancer -- that's too much for the Chinese society and government."

Fortunately for Jin, the society and government took a laissez-faire tack. "We Chinese always take the attitude, whenever things are not certain, we step back or stay there, to give it some time and space and let things naturally happen and become right. I was really challenging the boundaries of the society but I had confidence in myself."

Jin's mother was not as sanguine. She worried the surgery would not go well and feared for her son's future. Jin fretted over what his father, a military officer, would say.

At age 28, Jin underwent three sex-change surgeries. His final operation lasted 16 hours.

Jin recalls sitting in the hospital and telling his father: "Your son has become your daughter."

The PLA officer was briefly speechless, but after smoking a cigarette, he told Jin: "Twenty years ago, I looked at you and wondered, I have a son but he looks like a girl. So 28 years later, you've found yourself. Congratulations."

The new woman continued to thrive with even more charm and effervescence. I recall seeing Jin a few times in "Half Dream," a bar she opened in Beijing which briefly became a hub for local artists and expatriates.

I remember seeing her driving in a green VW Beetle, rushing from one meeting to another, dressed in mini-skirts, loud colored blouses and high heels.

In 2000, Jin's life changed again. She became a mother, adopting three Chinese orphans -- son Leo, daughter Vivian and little boy Julian. Soon after, she married a German man, Heinz Gerd Oidtmann.

"Everything is legal," she enthused in her gravelly voice, referring to her sex change, marriage and adoption. "But how does the society accept you and digest the status matters -- that's up to you to convince them."

Meantime, even though homosexuality has been decriminalized in 1997 and was dropped from the official list of "mental disorders" in 2001, China's LGBT community continues to struggle against social stigma and legal discrimination.

Because the Chinese government remains largely silent on the issue of homosexuality, they risk official ban or harassment whenever they meet, organize or provide services within the community. There are no applicable laws and regulations governing gay marriage, divorce, child custody, adoption and other related issues.

LGBT couples are not recognized as constituting families.

Yet, with an estimated transgender community of around 400,000 the Chinese government has granted them civil rights under the law, allowing them to change their national ID cards and passports, and legally recognizing their marriages after sex-change.

"It's still in the struggle period, but it's getting better," Jin said.

She believes China needs more time. "The day I came out as a woman to society, I said,` Okay, I give myself 50 years' time, I will tell the society who I am'."

Jin's willingness to reveal -- and revel in -- her sex-change story continues to make waves. When she is not dancing and choreographing, she is acting in films and appearing as a judge in China's versions of "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol."

Is she a good role model for the Chinese youth?

"I don't want to be a role model," she replied, flashing a smile as she tossed back her coiffed hair. "I just want to be myself. Next month, I will release a book, in which I said, "I don't want to change the world, but I also don't want the world to change me too much.' I just want to be myself."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:59 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
Over 200 Chinese villagers in Sichuan province have signed a petition to banish a HIV-positive eight-year-old boy, state media reported.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane, forcing the Nanjing-bound plane to turn back to Bangkok.
updated 12:03 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
updated 7:21 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Like Beijing today, Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons.
updated 12:42 AM EST, Sat December 6, 2014
At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
updated 3:26 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
updated 1:48 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
updated 3:55 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Despite an anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
updated 7:01 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A 24-hour Taipei bookstore is a hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms.
updated 8:53 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT