Shanghai Tango: A Memoir - Jin Xing

A while a go I posted about a remaindered book sale I came across, while out shopping with my mum. We both picked up a pile of books each. Shanghai Tango is one of the books my mum bought.

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Chinese
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Year: 2005
Rating: 3/5

This unusual memoir describes how China's foremost male ballet dancer (and colonel in the People's Army) underwent China's first sex-change operation and became the Shanghai Ballet's prima ballerina.

I enjoy reading memoirs. I find they are a great way to see what other peoples lives are like, people who have had very different lives to myself. When I first read the blurb on the back of this book I was immediately fascinated. Can it get any more different that a Chinese ballet dancer and army colonel having a sex change?

Jin Xing has been feminine since he was a child and loves to dance. He has a natural talent and because of this, he is recruited by The People's Liberation Army Dance Corps. Seeing this as his best shot to achieving fame, Jin Xing accepts and starts his training as a soldier and dancer. 

This memoir follows Jin Xing through his childhood and teenage years, into adulthood Dancing is the most important thing in his life and he is relatively happy, but something just isn't right. It isn't until Jin Xing becomes an adult, and travels around the world, that he begins to realise who he really is. 

He has a few gay relationships and although attracted to men, he does not feel 'gay'. He feels as if he is a woman, trapped in a mans body. So he does the only thing he can do, he returns to China in order to have sex reassignment surgery. 

This memoir was an honest account of how some of us are unlucky enough to be born into the wrong bodies. Imagine knowing you are a woman but when you look down, you are all man? I am so grateful that I was born a woman and know I am a woman. Makes life a lot simpler.

Jin Xing, although silently suffering, does not let this control his life or get him down, he takes a positive attitude to all that happens to him, which is refreshing.

I think this is why he was able to take the brave step of allowing himself to become the first person to have sex reassignment surgery in China, a risky operation, that ultimately changes his life and helps him to become the person he always knew he was. 

This memoir also gave an interesting look into The People's Liberation Army and it's dance corps. Imagine dancing to spread propaganda?

Although very simply written, this was a good read. I found the writing to be quite plain and expression was minimal. I wonder how much of this was to do with the translation?

All in all, it is worth the read if you like memoirs and you enjoy reading about people who have very different lives. If anything, it will put your problems into perspective. As bad as some things in your life may be, at least you are you!

Note: I understand that Jin Xing is a she, but for the purpose of this review (and because she was a man for the majority of this memoir) I have used the pronoun, he. It would just get too confusing if I tried to use both.
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