Transgender people in China

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The rainbow flag, commonly the gay pride flag and sometimes the LGBT pride flag, is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s.

Transgender is an overarching term to describe persons whose gender identity/expression differs from what is typically associated with the gender they were assigned at birth.[1] Since "transgender studies" was institutionalized as an academic discipline in the 1990s, it is difficult to apply transgender to Chinese culture in a historical context. There were no transgender groups or communities in Hong Kong until after the turn of the century. Today they are still known as a "sexual minority" in China.[2]


Because Chinese transgender studies are so unfocused, a wide variety of terms are used in relation to transgender in the varieties of Chinese.

  • Tongzhi (同志, pinyin tóngzhi) refers to all peoples with a non-normative sexuality or gender, including homosexual, bisexual, asexual, transgender, and queer peoples.
  • Bianxing (變性, biànxìng) is the most common way to say "change one's sex", though not necessarily through sexual reassignment surgery—bianxing may also include hormonal changes and lifestyle changes.[3]
  • In Mandarin, the term kuaxingbie (跨性别, kùaxìngbié), literally "cutting across sex distinctions", has come into use as a literal translation of the English term "transgender", its use having proliferated from academic contexts.[4]
  • Offensive terms for trans women include "niang niang qiang" (娘娘腔, meaning sissy boy) or "jia ya tou" (假丫头, meaning fake girl).[5]
  • "Fanchuan" (反串, fǎnchùan) is the historical term for cross-dressing performing on stage, as in Beijing opera where males play women's parts, or in Taiwanese opera where females play men's parts.[citation needed]

In Hong Kong, there are specific derogatory terms used towards transgender people. The most common is jan-jiu (人妖) which translates to "human monster".[citation needed]

  • Bin tai, or biantai (變態) in Putonghua, in Hong Kong refers to a non-normative person, deviating from the reproductive heterosexual family and the normative body, gender, and sexuality expectations. It is also a derogatory term for cross-dressers, pedophiles, polygamists, homosexuals, masculine women, sissy boys, and transgender people.[6]
  • Yan yiu, or renyao in Putonghua, translates into human ghost, human monster or freak. It is commonly used to target transgender people, but has historically been used for any kind of gender transgression.[7]
  • The second form is naa-jing referring to men who are considered sissy or effeminate. However, the politically correct term for a transgender person in Hong Kong is kwaa-sing-bit (跨性別). The media in Hong Kong might use the negative term jan-jiu or bin-sing-jan, referring to a sex or gender changed person.[8][9]
  • In the late 1990s, the performing group Red Top Arts (紅頂藝人, py Hǒngdǐng Yìrén) came to fame in Taipei, Taiwan as the island's first professional drag troupe. Since this time, "Red Top" and various homophones (紅鼎, 宏鼎, etc.) have come to be common combining-forms that indicates drag, cross-dressing, etc.[citation needed]

Terms for crossdressing are many and varied. 異裝癖 (py yìzhūangpǐ), literally "obsession with the opposite [sex's] attire", is commonly used. 扮裝 (py bànzhūang), literally "to put on attire", is commonly used to mean crossdressing. Related to this is an auxiliary term for drag queens: 扮裝皇后 (py bànzhūang húanghòu), or "crossdressing queen". There are several terms competing as translations of the English drag king, but none has reached currency yet.[10] While research shows that China's younger population is much more accepting of transgender people, offensive terminology like "jan-jim" or "bin-sing-jan" is very common.[2]

History of transgender people in China[edit]

In the mid-1930s, after the father of Yao Jinping (姚錦屏) went missing during the war with Japan, the 19-year-old reported having lost all feminine traits and become a man, was said to have an Adam's apple and flattened breasts, and left to find him.[11][12] Du He, who wrote an account of the event, insisted Yao had become a man,[11][13] while doctors asserted Yao was female.[13] The story was widely reported in the press,[13] and Yao has been compared to Lili Elbe, who underwent sex reassignment in the same decade.[11][13]

Cross dressing in Peking Opera[edit]

A Beijing Opera or Peking Opera performer.

Sinologists often look to theatrical arts when imaging China in a transgender frame because of the prominent presence of cross-gender behavior.[14]

Peking Opera, also known as Beijing Opera, had male actors playing female dan characters. Men traditionally played women's roles due to women being excluded from performing in front of the public as a means of preventing carnal relations.[15] Although, before 1978, male to female cross dressing was mostly for theatrical performances, used for comedic effect or to disguise a character in order to commit a crime or defeat enemies.[citation needed] Female to male characters were considered heroic in theatrical performances.[16]

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties of China, cross dressing occurred both onstage and in everyday life. Within theater, some who were intrigued by it would roleplay, organize their own troupes, write, and perform theatrical pieces.[17]

Many of early modern China's stories reflected cross-dressing and living the life of a different gender for a short period of time, mainly featuring the cross-dressers as virtuous, like Mulan.[17]

Li Yu, a writer and entrepreneur, featured the gendering of bodies to be dependent upon men's desires and operated by a system of gender dimorphism, assumed by social boundaries of the time. When Li Yu created an acting troupe, as many elite males did, he had a concubine that played a male role as he believed she was "suited to male" or considered her more of the masculine gender.[17]

In modern-day Peking Opera and film, there are male to female cross dressers and vice versa for characters, especially with certain time periods.[18]


Confucianism, one of the dominant value systems in China, enforces and promotes traditional gender roles. Confucianism places a strong emphasis on maintaining males as the head of the household; thus, transgender people are considered to usurp said gender roles.[citation needed]

Buddhism views all bodily concerns as entrapment in the Samsara, including those concerning LGBT+ identities.[19]


Younger generations that have been less exposed to Maoist ideologies are more accepting towards members of the LGBTQ+ community.[5]

Child raising[edit]

According to some scholars, female infants were forced to dress up as males ("cross-dressing"). They claim that this, in turn, affected those children into living transgender lives.[17]

Legal aspects[edit]

After the World Health Organization dropped “gender identity disorder” from its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in 2018, China promoted the new guidelines in medical institutions across the country.[20]
In fact, as of now (2024Q2), it is still recognized as a disease in medical practice. [21]However, transgender people in China have a different view. Some transgender people believe that reserving as a disease is beneficial for inclusion in public health insurance, thereby reducing the burden of medical expenditure.[22]

In March 2019, China legislated to ban discrimination against LGBT people following recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council.[23]

Gender reassignment[edit]

Gender reassignment on official identification documents (Resident Identity Card and Hukou) is allowed in China only after the sex reassignment surgery. The following documents are required in order to apply for gender reassignment:[24]

  • A formal written request from the applicant;
  • Household Registration Book (which may need to be retrieved from the applicant's family) and Resident Identity Card;
  • A certificate of gender authentication issued by a domestic tertiary hospital, along with verification of the certificate from a notary public office or judicial accreditation body;
  • A notice of permission for gender alteration [of the document] from the human resources office of the institution, collective, school, enterprise, or other work units of the individual (if applicable).

However, changing the ID card information will lead to an abnormal match with the academic qualifications, which is a very serious impact on employment. (You cannot change your student status information after graduating from university.)[25]

In China, trans women are required to notify family, 。prove they have no criminal record,[citation needed](There is no evidence) and undergo psychological intervention in order to be allowed a prescription for hormone medication.[26]
Familial disapproval had led many to seek alternative sources of their medication, including online sources.[27][28] In the current (2024Q2) medical practice, transgender people first go to a transgender-friendly psychology outpatient clinic to obtain a medical record with Transsexuality/Gender identity disorder(Depends on different doctors and hospitals) , and then go to a transgender-friendly endocrinology outpatient clinic to prescribe medication based on the case.[29]

Based on the Management Specification on Gender Reassignment Technology published by National Health Commission in 2022, the surgical patient has to be at least over 18 years old, have the desire of intending gender reassignment persistently for more than 5 years, be unmarried in order to take the sex reassignment surgery;[30] plus, proof of familial consent is required prior to any surgical practice regardless of surgical types.[24]proof of diagnosis of gender identity disorder is required for surgery. [30][31]If a diagnosis is required, the vast majority of psychiatric clinics will require the parents not to object, [32]sometimes even if that patient is already 25 years old. [citation needed]In some cases, a one-year observation period is required after the request is made.[32]

In 2009 the Chinese government made it illegal for minors to change their officially-listed gender, stating that sexual reassignment surgery, available to only those over the age of twenty, was required in order to apply for a revision of their identification card and residence registration.[33]

In early 2014 the Shanxi province started allowing minors to apply for the change with the additional information of their guardian's identification card. This shift in policy allows post-surgery marriages to be recognized as heterosexual and therefore legal.[34]

In 2020, a transgender employee who was terminated by the e-commerce platform Dangdang for undergoing her reassignment surgery sued the company and won.[20]

In 2022, the National Health Commission lowered the minimum age for surgery from 20 to 18 and removed a previous requirement of one-year psychological or psychiatric therapy before surgery.[20]

In November 2022, Chinese government began preparations to restrict internet purchases of estradiol and cyproterone, and a draft had been reviewed.[27][28] The ban was put in place in December so that even those with prescriptions cannot buy these drugs online.[35]Now(24Q3)it can be purchased(on Taobao) but the review is very strict, much stricter than other prescription drugs.[citation needed]

Social support[edit]

Prior to its closure in 2023, The Beijing LGBT Center (Chinese: 北京同志中心) was primarily composed of four organizations: Aizhixing AIDS Organization, Tongyu Lala Organization, Aibai Cultural and Education Center, and Les+.[36] Tongyu Lala was an organization based in Beijing that combatted discrimination against and was an advocate for social inclusion of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people. The group also helped organize LGBT groups in China.[37]

Events promoting LGBT rights and equality in China include or included the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, the Beijing Queer Film Festival, and parades held in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai).[36]



Transgender youth in China face many challenges. One study found that Chinese parents report 0.5% (1:200) of their 6 to 12-year boys and 0.6% (1:167) of girls often or always ‘state the wish to be the other gender’. 0.8% (1:125) of 18- to 24-year-old university students who are birth-assigned males (whose sex/gender as indicated on their ID card is male) report that the ‘sex/gender I feel in my heart’ is female, while another 0.4% indicating that their perceived gender was ‘other’. Among birth-assigned females, 2.9% (1:34) indicated they perceived their gender as male, while another 1.3% indicating ‘other’.[38]

One transgender man recounts his childhood as one filled with confusion and peer bullying. In school he was mocked for being a tomboy and was regularly disciplined by teachers for displaying rowdy boy-like behavior. Some recommended to his parents that he be institutionalized.[33]

These attitudes may be slowly changing and many Chinese youth are able to live happy and well-adjusted lives as members of the LGBT+ community in modern China.[5] In July 2012 the BBC reported that the new open economy has led to more freedom of sexual expression in China.[39]

In 2021, China's first clinic for transgender children and adolescents was set up at the Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai to safely and healthily manage transgender minors' transition.[40]

According to a survey conducted by Peking University, Chinese trans female students face strong discrimination in many areas of education.[41] Sex segregation is found everywhere in Chinese schools and universities: student enrollment (for some special schools, universities and majors), appearance standards (hairstyles and uniforms included), private spaces (bathrooms, toilets and dormitories included), physical examinations, military trainings, conscription, PE classes, PE exams and physical health tests. Chinese students are required to attend all the activities according to their legal gender marker. Otherwise they will be punished. It is also difficult to change the gender information of educational attainments and academic degrees in China, even after sex reassignment surgery, which results in discrimination against well-educated trans women.[42][43]

Workplace discrimination[edit]

A 2021 survey in Beijing showed that half of the transgender respondents do not express their gender identity at work and 34% said they had experienced workplace discrimination. The unemployment rate in the transgender community was much higher than China's urban unemployment rate.[20]

Gender-affirming treatments[edit]

In 2019, Amnesty International reported that transgender people in China resorted to unregulated used of medication and self-surgery due to inadequate access to information, legal and administrative barriers to gender-affirming surgeries. Many were afraid to come out to their parents. Some purchased hormone drugs through unregulated channels online, overseas, or on the black market. Specialized gender-affirming health care facilities are not common in China, although a multi-disciplinary medical team for gender-affirming treatments, the first of its kind, opened in 2018 at Peking University Third Hospital.[23]

Transgender culture[edit]


Literature and plays in the 17th century featured cross-dressing, like Ming dramatist Xu Wei who wrote Female Mulan Takes Her Father’s Place in the Army and The Female Top Candidate Rejects a Wife and Receives a Husband. Despite the female to male cross dressing, the woman would eventually return to her socially gendered roles of wearing women's clothes and would marry a man.[17]

Social media and technology[edit]

Technological advancements help to promote greater awareness among youth of LGBT+ issues. Access to Western media such as trans-themed web sites and featuring of trans-identifying characters in Western movies are broadening the knowledge and sense of community that many trans youth seek.[5][44]

Transgender people in media[edit]




The following Chinese films portray transgender characters:[2]

In addition, in the 2019 documentary film, The Two Lives of Li Ermao, a trans migrant worker "transitions from male to female, then back to male," which some promoted as part of "Love Queer Cinema Week."[47]

Policy[citation needed][edit]

Policies for transgender are always erratic, Some of the content in the text may quickly become outdated. To some extent, this is also characteristic of China, and in 2020, China's policies towards various subcultural groups have fluctuated violently (e.g., Airsoft)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender Issues". GLAAD. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Chiang, Howard (2012-12-11). Transgender China. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-230-34062-6.
  3. ^ Baird, Vanessa (2003). 性別多樣化: 彩繪性別光譜. 書林出版有限公司. p. 25. ISBN 9789575869953. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Chung wai literary quarterly". 2002. p. 212. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Shiu, Ling-po (2008). Developing Teachers and Developing Schools in Changing Contexts. Chinese University Press. pp. 298–300. ISBN 978-9629963774.
  6. ^ Erni, John Nguyet (2018-12-07). Law and Cultural Studies: A Critical Rearticulation of Human Rights. Routledge. ISBN 9781317156215.
  7. ^ Emerton, Robyn (2006). "Finding a voice, fighting for rights: the emergence of the transgender movement in Hong Kong". Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. 7 (2): 243–269. doi:10.1080/14649370600673896. S2CID 145122793. Retrieved 2019-09-03.
  8. ^ "Transgender China". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  9. ^ Chiang, Howard (2012-12-11). Transgender China. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 266. ISBN 978-0-230-34062-6.
  10. ^ "Cantonese: Sex 黃色字眼". Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  11. ^ a b c P. Zhu, Gender and Subjectivities in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Literature (2015, ISBN 1137514736), page 115.
  12. ^ Chiang, Howard (2018). Sexuality in China: Histories of Power and Pleasure. pp. 240–241. ISBN 978-0295743486.
  13. ^ a b c d Chiang, Howard (2018). After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China. New York: Columbia University Press.
  14. ^ Chiang, Howard (2012-12-11). Transgender China. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-230-34062-6.
  15. ^ "Transgender China". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  16. ^ Zhang, Qing Fei (2014). "Transgender Representation by the People's Daily Since 1949". Sexuality & Culture. 18: 180–195. doi:10.1007/s12119-013-9184-3. S2CID 144742299.
  17. ^ a b c d e Kile, Sarah E. (Summer 2013). "Transgender Performance in Early Modern China". Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 24 (2): 131–145. doi:10.1215/10407391-2335085.
  18. ^ Chengzhou He (2 December 2011). Performance and the Politics of Gender: Transgender Performance in Contemporary Chinese Film. Brown University. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  19. ^ Greenberg, Yudit Kornberg, ed. (2007). "Homosexuality in Buddhism". Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions. Vol. 2. ABC-CLIO. p. 303. ISBN 978-1-85109-981-8.
  20. ^ a b c d "Trans rights boosted in China as court backs sacked worker, calls for 'respect'". South China Morning Post. 7 December 2023.
  21. ^ "南京|曹秋云 –". (in Chinese). china: {{cite web}}: External link in |quote= (help)
  22. ^ "X 上的 神楽坂 萌绫🏳️‍⚧️:"果然不是..." twitter (in Chinese). Greatly increases the financial burden of access and raises the bar one level higher----大加大了就诊的经济负担,把门槛又抬高了一个层次
  23. ^ a b "Transgender people in China risk their lives with dangerous self-surgery". Amnesty International. 10 May 2019.
  24. ^ a b "Legal Gender Recognition in China: A Legal and Policy Review" (PDF). UNDP. 2018-08-05.
  25. ^ "学籍学历变更指引 –". (in Chinese). "The personal information registered on the graduation certificate and the school credit card website is consistent with the information in its hukou and ID card at the time of graduation, so it is not eligible for revision of academic registration information.----毕业证书及学信网的注册的个人信息与其毕业时的户口本、身份证信息一致,因此不符合学历注册信息修改的条件"
  26. ^ Murphy, Colum. "China's First Clinic for Transgender Kids Opens in Shanghai". Bloomberg News.
  27. ^ a b Yang, Caini (8 November 2022). "China's Plan to Ban Online Sale of Hormone Drugs Worries Trans Women". Sixth Tone. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  28. ^ a b "国家药监局综合司公开征求《药品网络销售禁止清单(征求意见稿)》意见" [The State Drug Administration Department of comprehensive public consultation "drug network sales ban list (draft for comment)" comments]. National Medical Products Administration. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  29. ^ "欢迎 –". (in Chinese).
  30. ^ a b "G05 性别重置技术临床应用管理规范(2022年版)" (PDF). 中华人民共和国国家卫生健康委员会. May 2022. pp. 47–52.
  31. ^ "精神科医疗资源综述 –". (in Chinese). "Certificate": means a formal "certificate of diagnosis" that can be used for surgery---「大证」:指正式的「诊断证明」,可用于手术
  32. ^ a b "南京|曹秋云 –". (in Chinese). 2023/07/03 update Cao Qiuyun said that the issuance of a diagnosis certificate requires parental consent at the same time Reach the age of 20 After the observation period (the specific time is not specified, guessed to be 1 year)---2023/07/03更新 曹秋云表示开具诊断证明需要同时满足家长同意 年龄达到20周岁 经过观察期(具体时间并未说明,猜测为1年)
  33. ^ a b Jun, Pi (9 October 2010). "Transgender in China". Journal of LGBT Youth. 7 (4): 346–351. doi:10.1080/19361653.2010.512518. S2CID 143885704.
  34. ^ Sun, Nancy (9 January 2014). "Shanxi Permits Persons to Change Gender Information". All-China Women's Federation. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  35. ^ De Guzman, Chad (21 March 2023). "A New Drug Law and Old Attitudes Threaten China's Trans Community". Time. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  36. ^ a b Lixian, Holly (Nov–Dec 2014). "LGBT Activism in Mainland China". Against the Current. 29 (5): 19–23. ISSN 0739-4853.
  37. ^ "LGBT Community in Beijing". Anglo Info. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  38. ^ Winter, Sam; Conway, Lynn. "How many trans* people are there? A 2011 update incorporating new data". Archived from the original on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  39. ^ "China's acceptance of transgender people". BBC News. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  40. ^ Wenjun, Cai (November 5, 2021). "Nation's first transgender clinic opens in Shanghai". Shanghai Daily. Retrieved November 6, 2021.
  41. ^ "2017中国跨性别群体生存现状调查报告". MBA智库. Archived from the original on 2022-04-01. Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  42. ^ "跨性别者手术后:历时半年终于修改学历 就业遭歧视". 搜狐. 2019-12-23. Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  43. ^ 王若翰 (2012-06-20). "变性人群体真实生态:唯学历证明无法修改性别" (Press release) (in Chinese (China)). 搜狐. Archived from the original on 2014-08-12. Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  44. ^ Levine, Jill (8 August 2013). "Is Support for Transgender Rights Increasing in China?". Tea Leaf Nation. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  45. ^ Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices (2018, ISBN 1541557506), page 45.
  46. ^ "Chinese media embraces trans star, reflecting attitude shift in Beijing". Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  47. ^ Knotts, Joey (9 November 2020). "German, Queer, and Animated: Beijing's Film Festivals This Month". The Beijinger. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved November 16, 2020.

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