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Crossing the gender divide

This post may appear a bit from the left field. The Youku video below is a performance by Ye Zihan (叶紫涵), who cross-dresses and performs as a woman. Some may even think he is very pretty. What’s more interesting is the Q&A with the judges that follows.

Naturally, one judge asked Ye whether he considered going transgender.

Allow me to digress a little first. Chinese language content on the Internet is growing by leaps and bounds. According to this article, such content now comprises 24% and will soon surpass those in English. A bit hard to believe, but I can see that, given Chinese netizens make the largest population group on the Internet. As Warren Buffett not so long ago observed, China is unleashing her people’s potential. That also means China is brimming with just about everything imaginable, manifesting in all media, especially on the Internet.

When it was the third judge’s turn to vote, he offered a story as a caution to Ye to not cross the line. I know what some readers at this point might think. Is the judge expressing some kind of transgender phobia? I don’t think so. In order to understand where I am going with this though, I ask that you drop your value judgement on that issue. That is not where I am heading.

The judge essentially says that there is a proper function to everything. Perhaps defying nature might sow disharmony, he continued. He advised Ye keeping his on-stage identity separate. (Though in answering the first judge, Ye has already said that he is dressed as a woman more often than not.) He laments “losing” a good friend from a top Shanghai university (which he explicitly didn’t want to name). That friend was researching into the plight of prostitutes. Over time, she took gradual steps to learn the environment and talk to sex workers. Eventually, she would cross the line and become a prostitute her self.

Implicitly, the judge advises Ye to not blur the line, otherwise Ye will become a transsexual.

What really struck me about the video has more to do with the discourse in Chinese media about these sort of issues. This judge’s view is unvarnished, and done so in a very respectful tone. Some may argue that the ‘political correctness’ phenomenon hasn’t gripped Chinese society as it has the West. Definitely true. In my opinion, I think it can also be viewed as a good thing. I think what is perhaps more important is tolerance and respectfulness. Isn’t that the most conducive way to maximize pluralism in a society?

Politically-correct all the time with intolerance or polarization bubbling beneath the surface versus unvarnished but tolerant and respectful speech; which is better?

This finally brings me to what I wrote two years ago, “If Confucius is alive today, he would advise the Western media: ‘中庸’.”

In thinking about 中庸, my choice is definitely unvarnished, tolerant and respectful speech.

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  1. Wayne
    May 2nd, 2012 at 01:53 | #1

    This is absolutely sick, disgusting, vulgar, and this depraved ‘human’ being should be despatched to hell with a 7.62 calibre round discharged into the back of his head.

    It seems that China now is intent on following the sick slide of the West into moral depravity and wickedness.

    I suppose that is considered by some here as ‘progress’.

  2. May 2nd, 2012 at 09:22 | #2

    I don’t see it in terms of ‘progress.’ But I suppose you could see it that way. I simply think Chinese society is much more respectful for plural views. That’s what gives me hope; not to descend into a state where people with such different orientation gets killed as we see elsewhere.

  3. zack
    May 2nd, 2012 at 10:27 | #3

    In my opinion, Chinese society is very pluralistic compared to Western society with respect to LGBT; judeo christian morality systems condemn such practices as amoral and disgusting-to the point where they preach that homosexuals should be persecuted or destroyed. You won’t find anything of the like in Confucius’ analects or any other Taoist/Chinese folk religion creeds, because there really isn’t any need for it. You will, however find, codes of manhood codes of conduct, and because Confucian cultures emphasize the continuation of the family line, LGBT activities are viewed as mild abberations, rather than deviant sinful behaviour that must be destroyed, as so many moralistic Christian preachers or any other religion from the middle east advocate.

    What this means is that in order to preserve face in Chinese society, a gay person would keep it on the down low-which is a stark contrast to the backlash American society has experienced from the gay community since the 80s. Cases like this singer and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ are tolerated, rather than accepted in both Chinese and Western societies; the difference is that moral codes in China don’t advocate the death or persecution or judgement of gay persons.

  4. Ken
    May 6th, 2012 at 02:48 | #4


    First of all, judeo christian is no longer a pivotal feature of western society. There’s always separation of church and state. Not to mention christianity is constantly changing. A lot of christians are accepting homosexuality, just as they accepted women.

    Plus, do you really think that keeping it in the down low is the right way to address LGBT issue. A lot of people in china choose not to come out to their friends and families. This just brews ignorance, bigotry and discrimination against the LGBT community. If you really care for the gays, I don’t see how you would want that. Also, keeping it in the dl implies that gay is abnormal, as something that should be hidden. The psychological traumas to the gays aside, your view only shows that you believe society is a heterosexual male dominant one, gays and probably women should keep it dl

  5. zack
    May 7th, 2012 at 23:44 | #5

    You’re wrong; much of what is termed ‘western values’ are based on judeo christian morality systems, specifically the 10 commandments. I don’t seem to recall visceral and violent reactions against homosexuals in China on the order of that seen against homosexuals in many Western countries, and the very very very few instances where such cases were observed, the perpetrators were usually influenced by judeo-christian religious systems-protestantism or catholicism for example.

    Secondly, you’re blatantly ignoring the fact that people behave differently in society depending on their environment and their relationships with other people-something Confucius observed and implemented into his system of relationships. Your behaviour when you’re watching porn for instance, is not the same behaviour when you’re talking to your mother, or when you’re at work or etc. If it is, then perhaps you’d have a case, but you don’t.

    There’s a reason why some people are comfortable to ‘remain closeted’, and whether or not that’s healthy is up to the individuals themselves and their peers and/or psychiatrists/sexologists. The subject is controversial and open to debate for precisely the reason that homophobia was rampant throughout many western societies that derived their moral compasses from judeo-christian teachings against ‘the sins of sodom and gomorrah’ or any directives in deuteronomy advocating death for ‘men laying with other men’. In many Chinese spiritual systems, most of them do not address homosexuality because it’s not considered important, as so many judeo-christian theologians appeared fixated on homosexuality. What is considered important in Chinese confucian culture is having children-progeny who will carry on the family name and take care of their elders. It is in this context that homosexuality is frowned upon, rather than demonised and pilloried as in all judeo-christian religions, because in judeo-christian religions, deuteronomy said so, and Jesus maintained that the teachings of the torah (the old testament) would be maintained.

  6. Hugh Wells
    May 8th, 2012 at 03:44 | #6

    yinyang/ Zack do you think that the fact that homosexuality was classified as a mental disease in the PRC up until recently, and Wayne attitude of wanting to shoot Ye Zihan in the back of the head because of his/ her sexuality springs out of this Chinese tolerance?

    Or do you consider both to be an expression of being just “frowned upon”?

  7. Lime
    May 8th, 2012 at 06:16 | #7

    @Hugh Wells
    Well homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in the DSM up until 1973, so the Chinese government isn’t the only one guilty of this. The important thing is that it was declassified in both places.

    This is an interesting and refreshing post (aside from the comment about shooting him in the back of the head). I’d like to point out that cross dressing performers have a long history in China. In Kunqu and Beijing opera (and probably others that I’m less familiar with) there are “dan” (旦) roles, which are female roles traditionally played by male performers. Chen Kaige has two movies where these types of actors are central to the story, Mei Lanfang (梅兰芳) and Farewell My Concubine (霸王别姬).

    In regards to your comment about political correctness, I tend to believe that “political correctness” is present in both North America and China, but owing to cultural and historical differences, what is and isn’t politically correct is different. Having grown up in North America, I can say that we are touchy to a fault about race. I haven’t lived as long in China, but my impression is that people there don’t mind talking about race as much, but are far touchier about politics and religion than North Americans are.

    Zack may be right in part that traditional Christian intolerance for homosexuality has rendered it a touchier subject in North America than in China as well. But really, political correctness is a form of socially enforced respectfulness that results from controversial subjects where different people within a society hold strong and divergent opinions. I don’t think you can say one society’s rules of respect are better than another’s; everyone has skeletons in their closets and we all have to find ways to deal with them.

  8. Hugh Wells
    May 8th, 2012 at 06:32 | #8

    It was a crime in the PRC up until 1997 Lime, and punishable as such. If a countries laws are a reflection of societal norms then this speaks volumes for attitudes towards homosexuality in recent PRC history. The fact that it was listed somewhere else as a mental illness is neither here nor there. No one is saying the DSM is a paragon of virtue.
    “Chinese society is much more respectful for plural views” is not borne out by the this.

  9. Lime
    May 8th, 2012 at 06:39 | #9

    @Hugh Wells
    I don’t think anyone disagrees with you, except Wayne of course. This was a really shitty aspect of Chinese law, up until 1997. It has been rectified though, so you got to give credit where credit is due.

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