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How Transgender Dancer Jin Xing Became A Chinese Icon

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Jin Xing is one of the most transformative figures in modern Chinese history. Beginning life in a military family, Jin Xing herself joined the Chinese army as a dancer, rising through the ranks to become one of the best-known dancers in the world.

She studied and taught abroad for years during the 1980s and 1990s, and underwent a gender-affirming surgery in 1995. She founded China’s first private dance troupe, Jin Xing Dance Theater, in Shanghai.

She later became one of the most prominent public figures in China through her appearance on the Chinese version of So You Think You Can Dance, before being given her own talk show, The Jin Xing Show, which became the most-viewed TV show in China during its run, leading to her being compared to a mix of Simon Cowell, Oprah Winfrey and Caitlyn Jenner.

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She is multilingual, raised three children and enjoys a happy relationship. This is the story of Jin Xing.

Rising Through the Military

Jin Xing was born in Shenyang in Liaoning, one of the provinces that make up the country’s frigidly cold Dongbei region. At just 9 years old, she joined the local political dance troupe in Shenyang and started her education in the military arts, and in dance.

She discovered her love of dance early, with her talent becoming apparent at just four years old. Her admittance into a military troupe seemed inevitable, with her father (who, along with Jin Xing’s mother, was ethnically Korean), a bureaucrat in the army. Her star rose fast, and she was admitted to the country’s Army Academy of Art in 1984. She would go on to become one of the most famous alumni of the school.

She rose swiftly through the ranks of the Chinese military. Frequently invited to perform for foreign dignitaries in countries like France, North Korea and more, Jin Xing was awarded multiple times for her dancing ability, which led to a promotion to the rank of colonel.

Her time in the army was not entirely happy, however. When she was 17 years old, she found out about a dance scholarship in New York, where she desperately wanted to study, but was prevented by her role in the military and her standing as the best dancer in the country. “Every day, I got a hard beating during the training because that’s part of the Chinese mentality. If you want a child to learn something, you’ve got to beat them up,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

Dance Achievements

In 1987, at just 19 years old, Jin Xing finally moved to New York to study dance. Her time in the city, and subsequently in Europe, led to her beginning to believe that having a gender affirming surgery was a real possibility. As she once told the New York Times, “My whole being is female, I always knew I should be a girl.”

Speaking to South China Morning Post, she talked about her leaving the strict military life that she had led until that point and the impact it had on her. “Now I was free to discover myself. Maybe I’m gay? But I didn’t think so,” she said. She began to fantasize about being able to change her sex if she was struck by lightning.

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She moved to Europe in in 1991, where she travelled, performed and taught in Rome, before returning to China. She underwent gender affirming surgery in 1995. Easily the most famous public figure in China to undergo the surgery, the fact that she was allowed to do it and return to Chinese public life was somewhat shocking at the time. While her leg was paralyzed for a time afterwards, her ascent to stardom on Chinese TV and within the country’s entertainment circle followed not long after.

Before she began appearing on high-profile TV shows, Jin Xing established the Jin Xing Dance Theater, in 1999, the country’s first private performing arts troupe. Famously, Jin Xing has used her own money to subsidize the troupe at times, as the market for performing arts in China was underdeveloped. As her fame grew, the troupe also enjoyed a higher profile, and began to turn a profit.

Becoming a Star in China

Jin Xing got her big break on TV when she appeared as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance in 2013. She garnered a reputation for her biting criticism of performers on the show, and became known for her refreshing honesty and no-nonsense approach to performance.

Her popularity on So You Think You Can Dance led to her own chat show: The Jin Xing Show. It was the most popular TV show in China during its run, earning 100 million viewers each week when it aired on Wednesday nights. Guests on the show included the likes of Suzhou River star Zhou Xun, The Mermaid actor Deng Chao and American movie star Brad Pitt.

In the years since the end of the talk show, Jin Xing has jumped between dance variety shows, performances and stage plays, though never enjoying the same kind of attention that her talk show previously afforded her. Most recently she was made the face of Dior, making an appearance in a video by the famous brand, in which she says, “Women have a very critical role in modern society, in places as small as a family and as big as a country, therefore, I think it is very important for women to stay independent.”

Her story of ascent in Chinese society has been remarkable, and as she herself says, “There is only one Jin Xing, and Jin Xing’s success cannot be replicated.”

Cover image via Depositphotos

Bryan Grogan
Bryan is RADII's former culture editor. He is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with an interest in culture stories with a social bent. He once correctly guessed all 151 original Pokemon in seven minutes for an online quiz. He also correctly guessed all 100 second generation Pokemon in eight minutes for an online quiz.