Outside of China, Jin Xing, 49, is relatively unknown. In her country, her TV talk show The Jin Xing Show draws 100 million viewers a week, making her China’s Oprah Winfrey.
She was also a former man in a country where being a transgender or a gay person is a taboo.
In a feature article by Hollywood Reporter posted November last year, Jin Xing was an accomplished international male ballet dancer for the Chinese military and an army colonel.
She said that at a very young age, she knew that she was different. Showing talent in dancing, she was recruited to the military as part of the propaganda dance program and went on winning her first championship at age 17 and becoming the country’s number 1 male dancer.
“Performing for the military also means you belong to the military. You have a uniform, military training, a salary,” she said. She also noted the harsh treatment even for child soldiers like her. “If you want a child to learn something, you’ve got to beat them up. If you’ve seen the wonderful movie Farewell My Concubine, you can see the young kids training for opera [and getting beaten] — it’s exactly the same thing.”
At age 19, she won a dance scholarship in New York. It was at this point in her life that she started seriously asking difficult questions about herself. “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.”
She had her surgery at age 28 in China even though she could have done it more easily in Europe or in the U.S., saying, “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.”
She is the first transgender individual to publicly receive sex-change operation in China and the first individual to do so without the ruling government’s interference.
Complications during her surgery, which nearly resulted to a loss of the use of her leg, made her realize that she will never regain her ability when she was at her prime. She then focused on building a new dance company and becoming a prominent member in Beijing’s high-class society.
Aside from her being a TV hostess, she has worn many professional hats including dance prodigy, prima ballerina, decorated colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, choreographer, and actress.
And after adopting three children — Leo, 16, Vivian, 14, and Julian, 13 — and marrying German businessman Heinz-Gerd Oidtmann, she is also a mother and a wife which invited unwanted attention in a country with a one-child policy. “People talked about it, and some people criticized me: ‘Oh, she’s so selfish. She’s transgender. How does she have a right to be raising kids?’ Blah, blah, blah. I said, ‘Shut up. Am I a good mother or not?’ I’m a good mother. After my children are all grown up, [critics] will see they had no right to criticize me.”
Her rising profile exploded into the mainstream when she made an appearance in the local version of U.S. hit show So You Think You Can Dance. With her signature acerbic remarks, she became a fan favorite and earned the nickname Poison Tongue on social media.
With her popularity and her story filled with many groundbreaking accomplishments, Jin Xing has become an icon in the changing Chinese cultural landscape. However, she deflects any credit as a fiercely independent and inspiring woman, saying, “I’m too individualistic… 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.”
Hollywood may not appeal to her despite several acting offers including a small role in Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon, but she would like to go back to the U.S. and meet Oprah.
“I know one day I’ll go back to America,” she said. “I want to sit down with Oprah, and we can talk.”