Tag Archives: Dance

Closer Look: Jin Xing, China’s first transgender woman


I was born in China. It is in China I must be reborn as a woman.

Jin Xing was the first transgender person to undergo sex reassignment surgery in China with government approval, and the first whose sex change was officially recognized by the Chinese government.

As a boy, Jin had an affinity for dancing and soon became a ballet dancer. At nine, Jin began performing in a prestigious troupe that was part of the People’s Liberation Army – ballet has long been considered a valuable propaganda tool – and serving as a soldier. By the age of 17 Jin was the number one male dancer in China, and had risen through the ranks to become a sergeant.

At the age of 19, she started set off to start from scratch as a dancer in New York. Jin, a major celebrity in China, was nobody in New York in the nineties. But that didn’t stop her. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Jose Limon. News of her successes in New York reached Beijing, and she was promoted to colonel even though she was not serving. Her career took her to Rome, where she learned Italian, and she toured Europe before deciding that sex reassignment was the right thing for her.

Jin Xing training as a PLA solder, age 9 | image from hollywoodreporter

When I was six years old, I thought I should be a woman. I myself knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was wrong or what was mistaken.


Jin Xing in New York in the 1990s | image from hollywoodreporter

During her years in New York, Jin began to explore gender and sexuality. She considered the possibility she was homosexual. But at that time, homosexuality was still illegal in China, and considered a mental disorder. Similarly, very few Chinese people had undergone any kind of sex reassignment and none had been recognised by the state. This was a new idea to Jin, but America had opened her eyes to new things:

I discovered words — transsexual, transgender. I said, ‘OK, I belong to that small island.’ Then I started researching.

Jin underwent three surgeries in 1995, aged 28. She emerged from the last surgery, which lasted 16 hours, to tell her father: “Your son has become your daughter.” In reply, 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.”

Since her sex change, Jin has started a dance company in Shanghai, adopted three children, married, and begun presenting her own hugely popular television talk show, The Jin Xing Show, on the basis which she had gained the nickname “Poison Tongue”. She’s often billed as the Chinese Oprah. But she is so much more than that.

With her celebrity status, Jin Xing has brought attention to LGBTQ+ issues and the difficulties faced by the LGBTQ+ community, who struggle against social stigma and legal discrimination. She is loved as a beacon of hope by young people across China.

I don’t want to change the world… I just want to be myself.

Read on

Meet the Oprah of China, Who Happens to Be Transgender, THR

Jin Xing: China’s sex-change pioneer, CNN

Behind the Spotlights of Transgender China, Whats On Weibo

The Chinese New Year: Nutcracker, China style

National Ballet of China’s The Chinese New Year, a Chinese adaptation of the Christmas classic The Nutcracker, is without a doubt the most extravagant celebration of the national holiday that anyone could hope for. Using the original Tchaikovsky score, this version was choreographed in 2010.


One wonders how Petipa and Tchaikovsky would feel about The Dance of the Toffee Hawthorns or the Peg-Top, among others, but overall The Chinese New Year is an admirable ode to both a western ballet classic and to Chinese culture. Mostly, it is a fun way to spend a cold evening in the run up to Spring Festival.


N.B. This is just a 100 word extract from a longer review published by Bachtrack. Please click here to read the full review in English.

Please click on the images to enlarge. All images © Shi Ren


National Ballet of China: Preserving the Romance of Giselle (Chinese translation)

Unlike some contemporary Giselle being performed in the West, National Ballet of China’s version harks back to the delicacy and romance of the 1841 original. The choreography performed at Beijing’s NCPA last Friday was strikingly beautiful, wonderfully capturing the profound emotion of the piece.

© Shi Ren

This performance resonated profoundly; National Ballet of China set the bar extremely high with their Giselle. Feng Ying’s adapted choreography preserves the beauty of the original while adding revealing touches of humour and emotion to several of the characters’ relationships. The overall performance was incredibly touching, technically impressive and incredibly memorable.

N.B. This is just a 100 word extract from a longer review published by Bachtrack, followed by the full review in Chinese. Please click here to read the full review in English.




王启敏扮演的吉赛尔生动而甜美。在马晓东扮演的阿尔伯特身边,她闪闪发光,引人注目——他们组成了非常俏皮的一对儿。 在双人舞中,女孩儿敏捷而细腻,同样地,男孩儿以有力的支持和轻盈的脚步回应爱人。很多编舞的细节允许他们有足够的空间进行丰富的情感交流,但并不拖延故事的节奏。

© Shi Ren





© Shi Ren





Translated by: Kejia Peng and Xian Huang

Header image: © Shi Ren

Snow Days

Last Friday, a first blanket of snow covered Beijing for a few hours. I was safely tucked away, out of the cold, in a classroom on the third floor, overlooking the university’s playing fields. The more curious of the class peered out of the windows at the heavy dollops of snow coming down past the silvery trees still displaying their yellow leaves. It seemed too early for snow. And it was. The snow began after I started teaching that morning, and had melted by lunchtime with no sign of the powdery sprinkling but the remaining chill.

On Sunday morning, the snow returned in earnest. Hauling ourselves out of bed and into the shower before a long working Sunday and after a long working Saturday, we didn’t notice it until moments before we left the house. The whiteness shone in at us as the morning light bounced of whitened hutong roofs.


Throughout the day, my usual brisk walk to keep out the cold slowed gradually to a careful trudge, each short journey between subway station and destination getting more treacherous as the thawed, slushy snow refroze to form a layer of ice underfoot.

Across the city, pavements were covered in green slush puppy – apple flavour? – as the chlorophyll from unturned leaves crushed underfoot mingled with the white snow. I knew Beijing snow ought to be dirty, but green? This wintry snap was so sudden that most of the trees were still covered in hardy green leaves, all forced to fall with the stinging cold. Workers lined streets wielding straw brooms and spades, gathering snow and freshly dropped foliage into little piles along sidewalks.

It was bitingly cold but I knew the later I stayed out the colder it would get. I managed to curl up in bed before 10pm – which is a first in months – for a deep, snow-induced 12-hour sleep.

Monday was sunny. The temperature was not high but the brilliant blue sky cheered my otherwise low spirits. I had explained in Chinese just the day before why autumn is my favourite season. In the UK, there are days when the sun shines, and the sky is blue but the air is frozen. Plumes of dragon’s breath unfold on the walk to school, as I eat a newly ripe apple plucked straight from the tree before leaving home – I remember those days as clear as the sky itself.

I donned my fur-lined industrial-weight stomping boots for the first time this winter (I’m so glad I braved China’s August heat wearing those on first arrival in Beijing, they are 100% necessary if I want my toes to survive Beijing winters) and sung as I walked to my dental appointment.


Unable to talk (let alone sing) on my walk home, I was no less grateful for the huge coat I bought last February. I hadn’t needed it (or hadn’t realised I needed it) until after a late-January visit to Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. That week of outside activities in my woollen, double-breasted, mens houndstooth jacket was agonisingly cold. But last year, apparently, was much warmer than this. The blue skies we had last year confute the cutting chill of normal Chinese winters. Climate change finally appearing manifest, last year’s was a deceptively warm hoax of a winter.

And now, the thin snow is falling once again. Though it comes down in sparse little flurries, it is constant and soon covers the ground in a fine powder. The eerie white light spurs me on. The trees directly outside my north-facing windows are completely bare and leaf-free now. This is the freshest light I have seen in weeks.

As I write, I know the playground opposite is about to be flooded by children, who may or may not run around and play in the white cold a little while, depending on how strict (or cold) their waiting (grand)parents are. Perhaps the blanket will remain where it lies, undisturbed until tomorrow’s school day begins afresh, perhaps it will thaw and refreeze, rendering the play area unusable and keeping the children indoors all day as the rain used to do in my school – we had specific games especially for ‘wet play’ days.

Might their Headmaster organise a snowball fight? Mr Watkins, our Headteacher and everybody’s favourite, would announce the scheduled lunchtime fight at the morning’s school assembly. Year 4 and 7 against years 5 and 6, with respective teachers joining their classes. Mr Watkins was a devoted cricket player, who, during Monday assemblies in summer months, would recount stories of his Sunday afternoon matches – I was one of the few students on our cricket team, and therefore lucky enough to understand his love of the sport – so Mr Watkins had the best aim of all the teachers, and you’d always want him on your side for the snowball fights.

Somehow I doubt that is a popular policy at Chinese schools. I just hope the local kids get to enjoy the winter’s snow as much as I did as a child (and still do), and aren’t kept indoors by their guardians for fear of their having too much fun.

Chinese Dentist Time

What time is it?

It’s Chinese Dentist Time! 

When I was a kid, just as ten to ten became Cowboy Time (ten to ten to ten ten ten…, two thirty became tooth hurty – Chinese Dentist Time. It was years before I realised the racism of this joke. But it has nonetheless been circling my head for the past week.

I have spent months trying to find a dentist within convenient distance who I trust. I had two fillings by a friend of a friend back in June, the first of which still hurts. I trust her judgement on necessary treatment, just not so much the follow through. She spent several hours yanking on my friend’s wisdom tooth before they rushed him to hospital because she was both unable to pull the tooth and unable to staunch the bleeding…only about a month before his wedding.

I can’t say I have been able to get good advice from many people. Most expats, it seems, do not a) take care of their teeth, b) have bad teeth that they need to take care of, or c) feel safe enough to entrust themselves to a Chinese dentist. I don’t have much choice, unless I want to live with severe shooting pains through my jaw every time I eat until I visit the UK in July, at which point I would probably need six teeth removed through sheer neglect. I cannot believe it took me so long to actually see a dentist!

X-Ray courtesy of Hengrui Dental Office

But this week, having decided I had to at least get ONE thing ticked off my to-do list, I walked into a Wudaokou dentist, and just happened to catch an English-speaking assistant before she left work at 9.30pm. So they X-Rayed me, had a prod about to discern where the pain was coming from and then gave me an appointment.

Tomorrow, I am getting a wisdom tooth removed. I am somewhat scared. It’s bad enough trying to communicate with a person when they have tools and their hands inside your mouth in order to cause you pain. This dentist, though, does not speak my language.

So, without further ado… Wish me luck!!

P.s. More on this to come, after the “surgery”…


Evolution: A dance where nobody’s watching

Dance is one of the major loves of my life. It is my therapy. It gives me focus and energy. It calms me down. It is always there when I need it. I can find the soothing power of movement within me wherever I have a little free space and time.

Thus I have long wanted to make a contribution to the dance scene in my local area. Living in London for 10 months in 2013-14, I wrote about dance week in, week out. I lived and breathed dance. But I lived and breathed dance vicariously. Yes, I watched wonderful live performances by some of the world’s major contemporary dance and ballet companies, I read articles, I wrote reviews, I met other writers and I met practitioners. But I did not dance. That’s where I was going wrong.

Beijing’s dance scene has taken me a while to get my teeth into. I spent months searching high and low for anything and everything beyond the National Ballet of China performances at the NCPA. I wanted to keep writing about dance but I needed to get involved, physically.

My first encounter was a little before my birthday last year. On the last Sunday of November and the first Sunday of December a pair of Contact Improvisation (CI) workshops, run by Irene Sposetti and facilitated by Beijing CI, took place at LDTX studios. It was something like 10 hours of dancing plus a live music jam session on the final evening. It utterly exhausted me. But there’s a reason it was my only birthday present from me – I needed it more than I ever had. It had a profound effect on my wellbeing.

The Beijing CI group run weekly Sunday night workshops in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, (6.30-8pm) followed by a free-form jam (8-9.30pm). I see it as a chance to get in touch with my body and focus on the connections between my inner and outer selves while I build relationships with dancers around me. Returning to CI workshops after a long dancing hiatus has flooded my soul with relief.

Most recently, though, I have become involved with Pojie Arts, a Beijing-based organisation that runs transformative and therapeutic dance workshops for people with disabilities. Introduced to Pojie’s co-founders by a mutual contact, we gathered in October to work together towards an event to be held early in December.

I’ve now worked with Pojie participants, founders and volunteers on three occasions. It has been the easiest imaginable creation process – the participants are energetic, intriguing movers while the Pojie facilitators are brimming with fantastic ideas. Needless to say, I am incredibly excited by this project, and so happy to know that our event will raise money to enable Pojie to continue their brilliant work. So, without further ado:


Evolution: a dance where nobody’s watching

Ever wanted to dance like nobody’s watching?

Transmigrant Flow has teamed up with Pojie Arts to hold a night of dance and merry-making. Pojie Arts runs transformative and therapeutic dance workshops for children and young people with disabilities. 

The night will showcase video and photos taken by Michelle Proskell, a participatory dance performance by Pojie’s volunteers and dancers, and a free-flowing, no lights dance party we’re calling Dance in the Dark. 

All proceeds will go toward enabling Pojie Arts to continue providing their beneficial workshops for free.

8pm Thurs December 10th 2015 at Modernista, 44 Baochao Hutong, Beijing

Tickets: 50rmb (on the door)

Please contact me for more information about the event.


Check out Beijing’s Contact Improvisation group  on Facebook

CI Workshops and classes take place at Capoeria Mandinga Beijing, a ten minute walk from Chaoyangmen Subway station  (exit A).

Room 801, JiQingLi Community (Above UBC Coffee), Northwest corner of Chaowai North Street and JiShiKou East Road.





Beijing Dance / LDTX premiere Yang Wei’s evocative Earth / Quake

Beijing Dance / LTDX premiered Earth / Quake, a contemporary dance work by well-known traditional Chinese choreographer Yang Wei at the People’s Liberation Army Theater last week to a noticeably mixed and highly enthusiastic crowd of foreigners and locals alike. This is the first time Yang has done a modern dance piece, announced good-humoured Artistic Director Willy Tsao before the show, ‘so even if you do not like it, you can appreciate the effort that she put into this trial’. The Beijing Dance / LDTX dancers could not have disappointed their audience had they tried.

© Yin Peng
© Yin Peng

Watching a piece by an Army choreographer is a pretty special experience. For Yang’s very first venture into the world of contemporary dance, she created a piece that explores the depths of imagination and fantasy. Countless metal chairs and a white bathtub hung from the ceiling above the dancers – the literal suspension of day-to-day reality. Jemmy Zhang’s costumes pushed the bounds of contemporary dance costuming with oversized formal wear hanging off the dancers in swathes at odd angles – Tang Ting Ting wore a  jacket as a skirt. She climbed into it, one leg and one arm in the two sleeves, and played with the range (or restriction) of movement this allowed.

The piece ultimately centred around a romance between the dreamer (Adiya) and a veiled beauty (Gong Xing Xing), who seemed to be protected by a horde of strangely clad beastly creatures.

Gong trailed lengths of white gauzy fabric everywhere she went, looking like the dreamer’s ultimate damsel in distress. Adiya darted about, hopelessly in love and helplessly unable to make any progress with her.

This post is a combination of 100 words from a longer review and additional thoughts thereafter. The official review was published by Bachtrack on 6th November 2015. Please click here to read the full review.