Dubbed China’s Oprah Winfrey and known for her matchmaking and talk shows, Jin Xing is now looking to shine in Singapore.

SINGAPORE (Dec 20): "I’m a good matchmaker,” Jin Xing tells Options. “Because I know the people, [and] I think of how they can get together.”

Her Chinese name, Jin Xing, means Gold Star, or Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty — a particularly befitting coincidence.

Jin is known to millions of viewers in China as the hongniang (matchmaker) on reality TV show Chinese Dating with the Parents. She has also been a talk-show host and a judge on a dance competition show.

Her rise to the pinnacle of the entertainment industry in China was the culmination of a long journey that included gender reassignment surgery at the age of 28.

Born to dance
Jin was born in the summer of 1967 in Shenyang, the provincial capital of Liaoning, in the northeast of China, to ethnic Korean parents. She had always wanted to be onstage and when she was nine, she joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as a member of a military dance troupe.

At 17, Jin won her first national dance competition and, two years later, left to study dance in New York, all the while earning accolades for her prowess as a dancer. She was promoted to the rank of colonel by the PLA as an acknowledgement of her success overseas. After travelling for some time in Europe, Jin returned to China and underwent the sex reassignment operation in 1995.

Tragedy struck when a lack of oxygen supply to her left leg during the surgery left it paralysed, casting doubt over her future as a dancer. Fearing the worst, she pushed ahead with a physical therapy regime and managed to recover most of the use of the limb over the course of a year. Despite the setback, Jin soon returned to the stage, reborn as a woman.

“I think that was the test of my life,” says Jin. “Sometimes, you need to give up something you have, something you treasure. Life takes it from you. But then, I asked for it back. I went through hard, painful treatment and got my leg back. I think to get back my leg, I had to use all my strength. Then, I felt qualified to accept it, [to] receive the gift that I was asking for from life. Nothing is free. I paid for that.”

Starting a dance company
Already a famous dancer before her surgery, Jin bounced back from her ordeal even stronger, and soon took the next big step in her career. In 1999, she established the Jin Xing Dance Theatre, China’s first private performing arts company.

Options met up with the 52-year-old Jin during her trip to Singapore in November, at the Marina Bay Sands presidential suite where she was staying. Gesturing towards the expansive view of the Singapore skyline from her window, with the iconic supertrees at Gardens by the Bay forming part of the background, Jin is quick to state her appreciation of Singapore’s stability. “I love Singapore, the stability… People think that stable is not moving, not changing. Actually, it’s not [true].”

Jin is no stranger to Singapore, this being her third visit. She was in the city state in 2012 and 2017 with her dance troupe. This time around, she is exploring the possibility of collaboration with local artistes and producers, and of bringing to Singapore her China-produced talk show, The Jin Xing Show, with a local twist.

“I like the system in this country. People respect the system and benefit from it,” says Jin. “Of course, if we talk about Singapore, people know that it’s a beautiful place. Everything is so convenient, the economy is so stable.” But she reckons that Singapore has “more to discover, to develop. That’s what attracted me to come to Singapore. I also love the talent of the people here”.

Seeking new experiences
If she does decide to move to Singapore, Jin, who eschews home ownership, will rent a property. She lives in a rented house in Shanghai. The only property she has in her name — a family vacation home by the sea in southern Italy — is jointly owned with her German husband, Heinz-Gerd Oidtmann. They are parents to three children, whom Jin adopted when she was single.

“I never buy anything, so that I can invest all my money in seeing the world. I love travelling,” Jin explains. “I am still full of curiosity about the world. The world is calling me. There are so many places I haven’t been to; so many people and so many cultures I want to know about. That curiosity brings me all over the world. At the same time, I can meet people and [we can do] things together.”

The greatest teacher in life, to her, is undoubtedly experience. “What is life if you do not enjoy it, and what is there to life if you do not experience it? [One should] dare to experience,” she points out.

Self-discovery and learning through experience are themes that surface time and again throughout Jin’s conversation with Options.

“I sometimes think a large part of the education for our young children is too practical. [We are] too eager for success, and short-sighted in looking for fast returns,” she notes. Her advice to parents? “All parents wish for their children to be successful. I say instead, give the kids more opportunities and a chance to exist in the art world.”

This advice appears to have been drawn from her own experience. Jin is grateful to her parents, who are, in her own words, “very liberal”. She says, “They produced me as one with a very free spirit.”

More than just a label
It has been well over two decades since Jin underwent her life-changing surgery, yet people constantly label her as a “transgender” before lauding her achievements. Jin takes great pride in her identity, but accepts that others may think differently of her.

“Sometimes, they don’t know how to place you. They choose this label for you — transgender dance artiste, transgender superstar. I’m okay with that. I don’t mind. I respect people’s opinions. But I know who I am,” she says.

She recounts an incident in which her son heard her being introduced on TV as “the transgender dance artiste Jin Xing”. The then 11-year-old boy was upset and muttered: “This world is so pathetic, so ridiculous. They can’t forget it.”

Jin remembers telling her son: “They will never forget. They always use this word, it’s okay. Take it as life.” She says, “That’s part of Jin Xing, part of my history, of which I am proud.”

Looking back, she says she found her own way to become who she is today. “I wanted to be myself, which was very difficult in that society [in which she was brought up]... Maybe the path was very tough, very difficult, and cruel and lonely. But if you choose that path, you stick to it.”

Dance has enabled Jin to look into herself. “I chose the stage, and dance chose me. I didn’t choose to become a dancer, [but] I love to be onstage,” says Jin. “If I am confused, the stage always helps me. It always tells me who I am.”

Whatever her motivation, there is no doubt about Jin’s iron will. The superstar remains confident and poised to tackle whatever lies ahead. “I don’t feel like I have a heavy burden on my shoulders. I am just myself,” she declares.

Jin believes that everyone needs to hold on to their dreams in life. “Each person needs to find a handle for themselves. This handle is not money. It is art, or whatever you like.”