The former colonel in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army who became a world-reknown ballerina.
Jin’s remarkable life journey began in 1967 in the Liaoning province of China. As a young boy, Jin excelled at dance and at 9 became the youngest person to join the People’s Liberation Army Song & Dance Academy -- where he undertook dance and military training.
Jin won a dance scholarship to America at 20 and travelled to New York where he studied modern dance and choreography at the schools of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. New York proved a major turning point. Jin adapted well to the Western environment, and in 1991 received the award for best choreographer at the American Dance Festival for his work Half Dream.
Jin returned to China in 1994. Aware that he often felt more like a woman than a man, he underwent three sex reassignment operations and emerged to set up the Beijing Modern Dance Ensemble in 1996. Since then Jin has taught and performed across Europe, including at the Venice Biennale, Dance Umbrella London and Impulstanz Vienna.
Jin is now recognized as the most significant choreographer in China and the director of the biggest independent dance group in the country. She had become China's top prima ballerina and "perhaps one of the world's best dancers; she could defy gravity," says a Western diplomat who has seen her perform.
After moving from Shanghai to Beijing, she adopted her first child, Leo, now 10, with help from her mother. He was soon joined by Vivian and Julian, now 8 and 7, respectively. "Children immediately centered me, grounded me. Wham! In one decade I became very family-oriented. No more wild party girl," recalls Jin, who had accepted life as a single mother until one day in 2004 when, champagne-tipsy on a long transcontinental flight, she fell into conversation with the German businessman in the seat next to her in first class. Heinz-Gerd Oidtmann, who is now her husband, says he was "swept away by the fantasy that was Jin Xing." But she wanted to him to confront reality; on their first date, she met him holding one of her small children in her arms. The bigger surprise—that she had once been a man—left Oidtmann a little stunned. After spending a short time alone to reflect, “I went back to tell Jin Xing I wanted to be with her,” Oidtmann told NEWSWEEK.
In 2006 Jin founded the Shanghai Dance Festival as the first independent dance festival in China. Under her guidance and patronage, the festival aims to enhance appreciation for cultural exchange through dance.
In November 2006 Jin was awarded an honorary Ph.D from Dartington College of the Arts (UK). Jin lives with her German husband and their three adopted children in the colonial district of Shanghai.
Some Chinese still view Jin with raised eyebrows. But the fiercely independent artist, now 43, has completed an astonishing journey to gain professional recognition and acclaim. Hers is not simply a tale of individual struggle and perseverance, but also a story of how Chinese society—while still constrained politically—has liberalized further in terms of art and culture than many in the West might expect.
Jin remains as feisty as ever, referring to herself as "an alibi" for the Chinese Communist Party: whenever a foreign critic denounces Beijing’s human-rights record, Chinese officials can respond by saying they allowed an Army colonel to have a sex-change operation and go on to become an officially endorsed performer. But Jin is hardly a puppet whose strings are easily manipulated. She once famously shouted "I'm not your socialist dancing machine!” to a group of Communist Party apparatchiks. And as a mother, she encourages her kids to think for themselves: when watching TV together, Jin says she yells "Propaganda!" whenever the announcer starts spinning the news. (She’s been open with her kids, too, about the fact that she was once a man.)