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Fame and celebrity

How transgender dancer Jin Xing conquered Chinese TV

She hosts country’s most-watched talk show and made a splash with controversial matchmaking show

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 2:15pm

Jin Xing, the first person in China to have her transgender identity recognised by the government, is a household name as a talk-show host. Her sharp-tongued, no-nonsense and down-to-earth style has helped her hit the jackpot with The Jin Xing Show becoming the country’s most-watched talk show. Jin’s recent Chinese Dating matchmaking programme, which featured parents sitting beside the stage as consultants for their children when choosing partners, created a lot of buzz and a great deal of controversy because of some parents’ male chauvinism and patriarchal comments. Jin deflected the criticism by saying the show served as a platform for presenting reality and for people to discuss and reflect on such issues.

Jin, 50, underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1995 in Beijing, when already a renowned dancer. Despite her huge success as a television host, she says she would prefer dancing to hosting TV programmes if forced to choose just one job. She talks to Alice Yan.

Why did you do the Chinese Dating programme?

Years ago, a matchmaking programme If You Are The One was popular in China. Last year their production team approached me about potential cooperation on a new programme. I liked their idea of having parents help children select partners since it matches Chinese people’s concept of marriage as not only a deal between two people, but also a deal between two families. I thought the programme was also a good fit for me because I can communicate freely with both young and old people. So I was happy to do it. It was aired from the end of last year to February of this year and the viewer ratings were among the highest on the weekend.

What do you think of the controversy generated by the programme?

On the surface, my programme is about matchmaking; essentially it involves social issues including family education, social values, male chauvinism or feminism. Some of these issues are taboo on my talk show The Jin Xing Show due to the authorities’ restrictions, so it’s not bad to have another programme – Chinese Dating – to touch these topics. I can’t talk directly about these issues in the talk show, but it’s fine to present them on TV and let audiences make their own judgment. In Chinese Dating, we allow all kinds of comments and I won’t lash out at any one on the stage, even though I don’t agree with some people’s opinions in my heart. I hope my programme can spur the public to debate issues such as discrimination against single-parent families and misogynistic standards for choosing a girlfriend. People will reflect on whether they themselves adopt similar attitudes or what they should do when facing such a circumstance.

Is it possible that some guests on the programme are told to make sensational comments, instead of their own ideas, to be eye-catching? After all, that’s a practice adopted by similar programmes.

It’s impossible to do counterfeiting on my programme. In other matchmaking programmes in which the participants are young people, it’s possible that the guests are given money and talk as instructed by programme directors. But in my programme, parents come along with their children. So their attitudes and comments can’t be fake. The programme just crystallises the reality that mainland parents are so eager to find an ideal partner for their children and urge them to marry as soon as possible. Some parents will tout the offer of hundreds of millions of yuan or property ownership in Shanghai in order to lure a favoured candidate to choose their child as a partner. That’s just the reality.

Who are your fans?

I initially thought my fans were all young white-collar workers. But later I found that my fans were aged from five to 100 as my programmes are the ones attracting the whole family to sit down in front of the TV, watch and discuss together. I am very proud of that. Many people call me Teacher Jin or Sister Jin. The Jin Xing Show, aired at 10pm every Wednesday on Shanghai’s Dragon TV, is so popular that some old people go to bed at 7pm and ask their children to wake them up at 10pm so that they can watch the talk show. Once I played a role in a stage drama and a 100-year-old granny, supported by her great-grandson, came to see me. She said she liked my talk show very much. I asked, since she was so old, whether she could hear or understand what I was talking about. She said she didn’t care what I was saying, she only wanted to see the fine image of me wearing cheongsam. At that moment I realised that even my dress and my manner on stage would affect audiences.

You are an amateur TV host. How did you beat others who are hired by TV stations and whose major claim to fame is TV hosting?

Recently I was invited by the national radio and TV administration to give lectures at a training camp for TV hosts. I said my “magic weapon” is sincerity and authenticity. Another reason that the public like me is that I express my opinions directly and I don’t waste people’s time. My straightforwardness is in contrast to many Chinese people’s way of talking: they don’t have their own opinions or attitudes, and they are afraid to offend others by telling their true opinions. Some years ago, when I first appeared on TV as a dancing competition judge, I pointed out contenders’ mistakes directly, making them cry on the stage. I was nicknamed Poisonous Tongue. Many people didn’t like me at that time, but now they say they couldn’t like me more.

As a transgender celebrity in China, does society accept you completely?

When I did the gender reassignment surgery two decades ago, only 30 per cent of people sided with me. Nowadays, I think about 80 per cent of people recognise my choice. It’s social progress. That’s the result of my hard work all these years. I have been persistently chasing my dream and my dream is that I should live with my own wishes. So many young people regard me as an example to follow in life.

Do you receive negative comments regarding your transgender status?

Yes, every day. I feel these people are so miserable and I simply laugh at it. They can’t find problems in other aspects of my life, like my dancing or talk show. Their defamation can’t hurt me at all.

How do you rate your current achievements?

I am still under great pressure. Having tens of millions of fans means a huge responsibility and I should produce higher-quality programmes. My husband says I am vigilant every day. I think a person should always have a sense of crisis and be ready for new challenges. That’s why I work hard and spare no efforts in what I am doing. My daughter says I am the most diligent person in the world.

How do you balance your time between dancing and TV hosting?

Half-half. Jin Xing Dance Theatre, which I established in 1999, is the most successful privately run modern dance group in China. We performed in 15 mainland cities last year and will perform in 23 cities this year. I practice dancing regularly and join my troupe members to perform in front of audiences at least once a month. Dancing is my spiritual reserve, which supports me during my most challenging days. If you ask me to choose only one occupation between dancing and TV hosting, I will definitely choose dancing.

You have adopted three children and you have a German husband. Do you educated your children in the Chinese or Western way?

I have two sons, 17 and 14, and a daughter, 15. I require my children to follow traditional Chinese courtesy rules. For example, before each meal, unless elderly members of the family sit down and begin to eat, younger members can’t do that. Or when adults are talking, children cannot interrupt. Since my husband is a Westerner who advocates that everyone in the family is equal, I take his advice and let my children communicate with us when they disagree. This is different from my childhood when I had to obey every order from my parents.

Some people accuse you of having little contact with other transgender people, both at home and abroad. What’s your response?

I never get in touch with them because I hate being labelled. I don’t belong to any group and I only represent myself. I will help any vulnerable people, no matter whether they are transgender or not.