Meet the Chinese dancer who became a cultural icon after a sex change and has returned to U.S. for her first tour as a female
Jin Xing is now married to a German man and the mother of three
By Laura Cox
PUBLISHED: 17:49, 3 April 2012 | UPDATED: 20:03, 3 April 2012
The last time Jin Xing was in New York she was a man.
The Chinese film star, talk show host and celebrated dancer is experiencing the city as a woman for the first time.
She recently began her first U.S. tour with her company, Jin Xing Dance Theatre, which premiered in New York, where she studied modern dance 20 years ago.
A lot has changed for the 44-year-old in that time, including her gender after she became the first person to have a sex China and go public about it.
The mother-of-three went under the knife in 1995 in a sex change operation that almost ended her career as a dancer and has since become a cultural icon in China, used by the government as an unofficial ambassador of the arts.
‘They want to tell the world, “We do have an independent, free artist like Jin Xing”,’ she told MSN.
As a 9-year-old boy, Xing battled with her parents to allow her to attend a military school for dance, finally persuading them after a successful two-day hunger strike.
Alongside learning how to fire a machine gun and blow up a bridge with a bomb, Xing learned to dance under strict, disciplined instruction.
The military instructors would tie each student’s leg to a vertical column so that they were forced into the splits.
‘We are screaming and shouting, but the teachers, our teachers, are sitting there reading a morning newspaper and looking, “five more minutes”,’ she said. ‘I think, according to America or western law, this is completely child abuse, no doubt. But in China culture, you have to sacrifice.’
Aged 18 she was selected to come to America to study modern dance in New York City and found herself training with top tier dance companies and emerging choreographers like Mark Dendy.
‘Jin Xing was amazing, is amazing, still amazing,’ Dendy said. ‘There’s always a look in the eye when someone’s really, really great and we just say, “They’ve got it”.’
‘Pirouettes, grand jetes… he had, she had amazing air,’ Dendy said. ‘It’s the ability to go up in the air and have a cup of coffee and come down.’
While in the city Xing tried out dating men, unsure if she was gay or transgender, eventually making the decision to return to China for sex change surgery aged 28.
Her mother struggled when she broke the news – even scarier still was telling her father, a former military officer and member of China’s secret police.
But he took it surprisingly well. ‘Strangely enough, 20 years ago, I look at [you], I was wondering, I have a little boy, but you behave everything like a little girl. So after 28 years, you find yourself, congratulations.’
The surgery went well, but there were complications. The operation damaged Xing’s left leg and she feared she might never dance again. Three months after the surgery, however, she was back on stage in Beijing.
Her life changed again in 2000 when she became a mother, adopting her son, Leo, then her daughter, Vivian, and lastly her little boy Julian.
Then she fell in love with a German man she sat next to on a flight from Paris to Shanghai and the pair were married a year later.
‘I’m in the lounge and I’m waiting for boarding and a Chinese lady appears at the lounge. I wouldn’t say low key.
‘She was wearing a long leather coat, miniskirt, leather boots, Louis Vuitton bag on one side and a Chihuahua in her hand,’ said Heinz Gerd Oidtmann, her husband, who added that he doesn’t like to think of her former life as a man.
‘Somehow, I’m not really connected to that part of her life. I want to keep pure the female image that I have of my wife and it is very purely a female impression that I have of her.’
It’s been 17 years since her sex change, and Xing’s star status continues to rise. As well as dancing and choreographing, she’s acting in films and appearing on China’s versions of Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.
The Chinese government monitors her closely, watching what she posts on China’s version of Twitter and keeps a close eye on her dancing.
‘In China, before all the performing arts are only used for propaganda use, but if the art form [is to] become independent, that takes a little time,’ Xing said.
And while she acknowledges that some people come to see her perform because of her personal transformation, it doesn’t seem to bother her.
‘If my personal story can bring [the] public into the theatre, I’m already successful,’ she said. ‘Because after one and a half hour, they’re talking about my dancing, they’re not talking about my sex change.’