Chinese superstar Jin Xing hosts a TV chat and talent show, which is watched by an estimated 100 million people every week. Before that, she had an international career as one of China’s foremost ballet dancers. And before that, she was a man and a colonel in the Chinese army.

 Jin Xing

Jin Xing was born a boy. From a young age, he was fascinated by dance. Coming to the realization that it wasn’t just a whim, his parents let him join the dance company of the People’s Liberation Army – the best in China at the time. This meant that not only did Jin train in ballet and other aspects of dance but he also had to undergo tough military training – aged only nine. Still, by the time he was 17 Jin had won his first national ballet award, marking the start of a stellar dance career. At the same time, he rose through the ranks of the army.

 Dance troupe
Image: Jin Xing Dance Theatre

Discovering herself

When a military superior made a pass at him thinking that he was gay, Jin pressed for permission to leave China and study dance in New York. There, he received standing ovations for his first major performance and won awards at America’s top dance festivals.

Living outside China, he came to the realization that he felt at odds with his physical gender. His desire to become a woman grew when he moved to Europe to work as a choreographer and dancer in Rome and Brussels.

Jin eventually had gender reassignment surgery in 1995 – insisting that the procedure be performed in China. At the time, transsexuality was a taboo in the country, but Jin came up against no resistance from the Chinese government, which had already feted her international success. Jin had even been made a colonel in the army, despite no longer serving. Jin’s insistence on undergoing the transition in China, rather than elsewhere, may well have helped as much as her high public profile.

The Chinese Oprah

The surgery left one of her legs paralysed. Jin was warned that she might not be able to dance again. But three months later she was back on stage, facing down the media’s disdain at her transition and becoming China’s prima ballerina.

After adopting three children – another unusual move for traditional China – and marrying a German businessman, Jin now runs her own modern dance company in Shanghai. This is at the same time as hosting her own show on Chinese TV. The Hollywood Reporter has called her a “Chinese hybrid of Oprah, Simon Cowell and Caitlyn Jenner”.