Feminism Around the World: Jin Xing, China’s Most Popular TV Personality, Is An Icon Who Happens to Be Transgender
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CHINA: The “Oprah of China,” Jin Xing, Is An Icon Who Transcends Gender Identity
Meet the most popular television personality that you might not have heard of. Jin Xing is China’s biggest television icon, and has been called “the Oprah of China.” Her eponymous variety/talk show garners an estimated 100 million viewers every week, and she’s been able to create her media empire thanks to her successful career as both a dancer and a soldier for the People’s Army, the subsequent opening of her own dance company, and a long career as a TV personality beginning as a judge on a Chinese version of So You Think You Can Dance, where she was basically the Simon Cowell.
She is also a trans woman.
This week’s episode of The Jin Xing Show, for those of you who speak Chinese.
Jin’s story, which was recently spotlighted in The Hollywood Reporter, is fascinating not just because of her myriad accomplishments, nor even because she’s trans, but because of the way that she was able to achieve all the things she has and be the first person to publicly go through gender confirmation surgery with very little trouble. Remember that this is a country where being LGBTQIA is still considered taboo and a culture that has historically valued the collective over the individual. As reported by THR:
“Jin was the first public figure to transition. And since her transition was so high profile — she already was famous as a male dancer at the time — the fact that the Chinese government did nothing to stop it was widely seen as tacit permission. Today, gender reassignment remains rare, but, as with homosexuality, China’s official stance is opaque. While neither is necessarily illegal, being openly gay or transgender is still risky.”
As early as four years old, Jin felt different. It wasn’t just because of her gender identity (which she says she recognized at around age six), but because she exhibited a prodigy-level dance skill, which lead to her joining the dance troupe in the People’s Army (dance and acrobatics are used as propaganda tools by the Chinese military) at the age of nine, when she was still presenting as a boy. She continued training as both a dancer and a soldier (she can use a machine gun and place bombs as well as she can do ballet) until she left the military at age 19, when she moved to New York to further her dance career.
It was there that she began figuring herself out and learning the vocabulary for what she was going through. She says, “I was 19 years old, outside of China, [and] I thought, ‘Now I can think about it: Who am I?’ Now I was free to discover myself. Maybe I’m gay? But I didn’t think so. Then I went to the gay bars, met a gay friend, but I said, ‘No, no, I’m not gay.’ My sexuality is still like a female’s. That’s when I discovered words — transsexual, transgender. I said, ‘OK, I belong to that small island.’ Then I started researching.”
After gaining huge success as a dancer in New York — so much so that the People’s Army proudly promoted her to Colonel even though she was no longer serving — as well as living in Europe for a time (and learning Italian in Rome and French in Brussels, she speaks four languages fluently!), that research led to her moving back to China when she was 28, because she wanted gender confirmation surgery.
While it would have been easier to have gender confirmation surgery (and doctors would’ve been more experienced with the procedure) in the U.S. or Europe, it was important to Jin that she transition and obtain the surgery in China. Jin explains, “I saw doctors in the West, but I needed to go back to China. I wanted to be close to my mom because the first life she gave me, I was born as Chinese. So the second time I gave myself a birth again, I wanted it to be in China, too. I’m Chinese. I can live in New York, I can live all over, but I am Chinese.”
The 16-hour surgery caused a lack of oxygen to one of her legs, which paralyzed it. As a dancer, this was a worse-case scenario, and doctors told her she’d always have a limp. However, after a year of intense physical therapy, she returned to the stage and was able to dance again, this time as a woman.
She adopted three children on her own, totally flouting social mores and expectations, and according to The Huffington Post, while she raised eyebrows for a time, she was able to shrug it off thanks to the support of the two people that matter to her most, her parents. She said, “I fully respect the copyright. If those two people don’t mind me changing their creation, then why should I mind other people’s opinions?”
She opened a dance studio, married a German man named Heinz-Gerd Oidtmann, and now at 49, has The Jin Xing Show. She is fiercely ambitious, and has even entertained the idea of entering politics when the time is right. But for now, she’s more concerned with creating a show, a career, and a clout that no one can touch, biding her time until she can make a bigger move.
Jin also resists the idea of being anyone’s role model. “I’m too individualistic,” she says. “Young people look at me and call me the Statue of Liberty of China. I’m maybe the person that’s pushed the boundary, but don’t block my road! That’s it.”
Well, far be it for me to contradict such a badass icon, but I think that people are going to be looking up to her regardless, and for a long time to come. Definitely check out the full story about her life over at THR. It’s an amazing read.
NEWS FROM ELSEWHERE:
UNITED KINGDOM: “Three women take their names off letter critical of sharia courts inquiries” (The Guardian, 11/2/16)
INDIA: “Why Al Jazeera purchased rape videos in India” (Al Jazeera, 11/2/16)
PAKISTAN: “Rape survivor takes to Pakistan catwalk to inspire women” (BBC News, 11/2/16)
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