For this week’s activity, I was interested in researching how transgendered individuals are treated in China. The reason I decided to research this question is because I myself am not very knowledgeable on the treatment of China’s transgender population. Growing up in the United States, I was made more heavily aware of the treatment of our transgender society. Although still quite muted, there are accounts of LGBTQ life in our society made accessible through media sources such as the news, TV shows, and social media websites. However when it comes to global transgendered narratives, a lot of information is lacking.
“China’s Complicated Approach to Transgender Rights” by Eugene K. Chow explains China’s outlook on transgendered individuals has recently changed. China has a long history of oppressing homosexual individuals. 20 years ago, the Chinese government classified homsexuality as a crime, and up until 2001 it was considered a mental illness. A recent opinion survey revealed that a large portion of the Chinese population do not fully understand transgender issues and harbor negative sentiments. Forty-three percent of those surveyed in China believe that being trans is a form of mental illness, and 42 percent do not support bathroom access. Even with its oppressive history, there have been recent victories for the transgendered community there. For instance, one of China’s most influential and famous variety show hosts is Jin Xing, a trans woman. She is also the first trans person to have their gender recognized by the government.
Praise and acceptance for China’s transgendered community seems to be reserved for celebrities and those portraying “glamorous” women. This description feeds into the idea that gender is a performance and the individuals are the “actors”. This idea is literal in the sense that China has a history of using cross-dressing performers in theatrical performances. In “Transgender China” by H. Chiang, gender is described as a performance as it relates to androgyny. For example, the dans actors of traditional Peking opera start their professional training at a young age, and the only qualified actors to perform the female. Male and female actors were allowed to play these roles. Chinese literature has explored androgyny throughout the centuries, most particularly with the romantic literature of the late Ming and the early Qing periods. These stories often construes its protagonists as embodying the attributes of both genders (the perfect combination of masculinity and femininity) to portray androgyny.
“China Marks Transgender Day of Remembrance With National Survey” by Yin Yijun goes into detail about China’s first nationwide quantitative report on the status of the country’s trans population. Based on more that 2,000 responses (which is the largest such survey to date) the Beijing LGBT Center’s report points to a lack of access to medical treatment, domestic violence, campus bullying, and workplace discrimination as issues that affect the lives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in China. Transgender individuals in China are nearly twice as likely as other LGBTI people to face extreme forms of violence, such as conversion therapy (which often involves barbaric techniques such as electric shock treatment).
Overall, I feel that although China’s view on the trans community is positively changing, there is much work that needs to be done. As the articles that I have cited point out, the trans community is still viewed very negatively in China and this has led to unfair treatment in their daily lives.
Chiang, Howard, ed. Transgender China. Springer, 2012.