Changing mores of
Rural China becomes the unlikely stage for a transsexual’s
wedding, writes PETER HARMSEN.
WHEN Zhang Lin was carried in a bridal sedan chair down a 300m
dirt road to her future husband’s home, she was no different from
generations of Chinese women before her. Except that until a year
ago, Zhang was a man.
Thousands of farmers watched with a mixture of curiosity and
disbelief as the 38-year-old bride and her groom Yang Qizheng, four
years her junior, celebrated their wedding last weekend deep in
China’s conservative countryside.
“It’s a bit strange,” said Liu Guifa, a peasant woman who had
come to the village of Fenghuang in south-western Sichuan province
to witness the country’s first public wedding of a man turned woman
through a sex-change operation.
The sponsors of the elaborate and costly ceremony, Zhaode Trading
Co, based in the provincial capital of Chengdu 80km away, had hoped
Instead, they got pouring rain, turning the unpaved roads into
pools of grey mud, sticking in large lumps to the pants of the
guests squeezed into the narrow courtyard where the wedding ceremony
was to take place.
The weather did not
prevent journalists and cameramen from as far away as Shanghai from
attending an event that has seized the imagination of a public awed
by the frantic pace of social change.
A master of ceremony introducing
transsexual bride Zhang Lin and her husband Yang Qichen during
their wedding reception in Chengdu, China, recently. Theirs is
the first transsexual marriage approved by the Chinese
“I’m so happy,” said Zhang, dressed in a white Western-style
wedding gown and beaming with marital bliss. “People care for
A boisterous mood greeted Zhang, the owner of a hairdressing
salon in nearby Shuangliu city, on her arrival at her new
As the sedan chair appeared in the distance, the crowd emitted a
deafening roar, knocked over stools prepared for the wedding banquet
and trampled each other’s shoes into the mud in a desperate stampede
to see the celebrity bride.
“Please make room,” shouted an exasperated manager from Zhaode
Trading Co, his white shirt in silhouette against a banner
advertising electrical machinery sold by the company. “Show some
respect for the newlyweds.”
Respect was sadly lacking a year ago when Zhang decided to become
a woman so she could marry Yang.
And even though the Chinese Government gave its green light to
the marriage, acceptance came only grudgingly from a society steeped
in Confucian values about family and sex.
“In the beginning, when I wanted the sex-change operation, people
didn’t understand,” said Zhang, only her voice betraying her former
sex. “They said all kinds of things, asked me why I didn’t want to
remain a man, called me a weirdo.”
For Zhang, the road to her countryside wedding was a difficult
one, even though from her earliest years she felt that she was a
woman at heart.
“When I was a child, I liked to dress in girls’ clothes and put
on make-up. I liked to do girl things,” she said. “My parents didn’t
approve and wanted me to change. But I simply couldn’t.”
Pressured by her family and surrounding society, Zhang tried to
live up to the ideal of a Chinese man, even marrying a woman in an
awkward and ultimately vain effort to fit in with social
The fact that, for all the
taunts she has had to endure, Zhang can now live out her dreams
reflects just how much China has changed, observers said.
A promoter for Zhaode Trading Co, sponsors
of the wedding ceremony, standing beside the crowd awaiting
Zhang's arrival in her husband's home village in
The roots of these changes stretch back even before the reform
era, to the early years of Communist rule and the ultra-radical
1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when millennia-old norms were smashed
and some never restored.
“The Cultural Revolution broke down many taboos and led to more
openness and a more liberal attitude towards sex,” said Joseph
Cheng, a China watcher at City University of Hong Kong.
Today, the Chinese countryside is irreversibly transformed and is
catching on to new trends almost as fast as the big cities.
“Eighty percent of the men here go to the cities to work,” said
Huang Xuefeng, general manager of Zhaode Trading Co. “They encounter
many new ways of thinking, and when they come back, they make the
local farmers change, too.”
Amid the rustic affection showered on Zhang last weekend,
everything was not perfect.
Her 13-year-old daughter from her previous marriage could not
attend her wedding and may be gradually slipping out of her
“My daughter wants to live with me and my husband, but her mother
won’t let her,” Zhang said. “All we want is a chance to raise
Zhang’s urge to establish a nuclear family on her own terms could
yet collide with surviving Chinese mores.
Although many of the attendants at her wedding approved of
transsexual matrimony, they would not welcome it in their own
“People here don’t really understand what’s going on,” said He
Liying, a woman hugging her 10-year-old daughter Chen Ting as she
waited for the bride to appear from her wedding chamber.
“I can kind of accept this kind of marriage, but if my own
daughter wanted a sex-change operation, I would definitely oppose
it.” – AFP
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