Cross dressing within China

21 Apr

ImageImageCross dressing is prominent within the Performing Arts and in China today examples are visible within television and theatre. An famous example is that of Mei Lanfang (1894- 1961). Cross-dressing is featured in in productions of ‘Farewell My Concubine’ and also ‘Mulan’. These example show that cross dressing is not exclusive to an individual sex, but examples can be seen from male to female and vice versa.  Traditionally cross dressing was prominent in operas such as Peking Opera Kun (Kunqu) is highly revered within Chinese operas as it is the oldest form and also Yueju Opera which is popular in the south of China. Dan which is the term used for male to female cross dressing is often most experienced in Peking operas and Kun operas, whereas Sheng can be defined as female to male cross dressing  and is often associated with Yueju operas.

A point of evaluation would be to highlight that cross dressing within China can be seen to differ from cross dressing in other cultures rather than being associated with homosexuality as it is at times in the West. It can highlight a ‘Chineseness’ which is an argument made by Dr. Chengzhou. He argues against the case put forward by Judith Bulter who states that cross dressing highlights the performance of one’s true gender. Bulter uses the work of Foucault (1998): ‘truth’ of sex to highlight that gender is not derived from one’s body but rather performativity of reiterated acts.   


Bulter, J. (2011)Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex Routledge

Chengzhou, H. (2004)  Henrik Ibsen and Modern Chinese Drama Oslo Academic Press (Mar 2004)

Foucault, M. (1998) The History of Sexuality: The Use of Pleasure, penguin ed.2

Vimeo (2010) Dr. Siu Leung Li – Cross-Dressing in Traditional Chinese Culture, Available from:  2012] [Accessed 8th April 2013]


One Response to “Cross dressing within China”

  1. jc35g10 April 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    As with most countries, there are often parts of culture which some members of the public and authorities would prefer to unexposed. This secrecy appears to almost be a way of the rest of the country denying that these activities exist and occur in their society. This is seen to be the case with cross dressing in China. However, it should not be thought of like this. In most cases, as mentioned, cross dressing is not a display of homosexuality, but simply a form of art or entertainment. Keeping such a part of the Chinese culture so quiet means that stigma and prejudice is attached to the act, meaning that those men, or women, who take part in the activity could be victims of assault or be too afraid to tell their partner, as others have not been educated to accept this. I agree that there is a seedier side to this tradition, with connotations of prostitution and sexual practices, but for the more innocent acts of cross dressing there should be less disgust felt towards those who take part. People need a greater knowledge of what cross dressing entails and how it can be positive for the individual, in order for it to be a more accepted part of culture. Nevertheless, China has differing viewpoints on such activities, to that of other Western cultures, and so this change might take a long time to occur.


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